What Is a Job Reference? (Definition, Types and Examples)

Updated 26 May 2023

Whether you are applying for a role in a professional field or academia, employers often ask for references to vouch for your work and academic credentials. A reference can attest to your skills, education, work experience and other qualifications, boosting your chances of getting a position. Choosing the right types of references can give you an edge when applying to competitive organisations. In this article, we discuss the types of job references, how to get them, what to include in your references list and when to provide them during the job application process.

What are job references?

References are people who can confirm your claims about your professional achievements, education, experience, habits, skills and character. Employers use references to verify your resume and to determine whether you are a good fit for their organisation. When you apply for a job that requires employment references, it is important to choose a list of people who can showcase your best qualities and strengths to the employer.

Employers might ask your references to answer questions about you. They can also request letters of recommendation. It is crucial to select references qualified to speak about the skills and work experience that's most relevant to the role you're applying for. This makes it vital to have a list of references who can endorse you at short notice. References might be any of the following:

  • Former employers, managers or supervisors

  • Former co-workers

  • Industry colleagues

  • Advisors, teachers or instructors

Read more: What Is a Professional Reference? Definition and Templates

Types of references

There are three types of references:

Work references

Work references are people you worked with. They can be your employer, manager, supervisor, colleague, co-worker or subordinate. Colleagues in your industry are in a good position to talk about your organisational skills, teamwork, reliability and other qualities employers want in candidates. Co-workers can also provide excellent insights into your work experience, skills and professional accomplishments.

Where possible, include a previous employer who understands the duties and responsibilities of your role, your skills and the results you achieved. Aim to choose work references who can emphasise your strengths and suitability for the position. Ideally, you'd choose a work reference that you remained in touch with after leaving your previous role.

Academic references

If educational credentials can boost your chances of getting employed, consider including academic references, such as a professor or teacher. If you spent considerable time with an academic advisor, they can talk about your personal character, ability to achieve results or solve complex problems, and other skills you acquired during your studies. Teachers can also emphasise your knowledge of subjects relevant to a role and provide positive feedback about your personal habits and character.

Character references

If you have no work experience or academic references, character references are a suitable alternative. People who can be your character or personal reference include those you share hobbies or interests with, your landlord or neighbours, long-time friends, community leaders and supervisors at volunteer agencies. Choose character references who know you well enough to confirm your good qualities, including integrity, reliability and kindness.

Related: Character Reference Letter Sample and Tips

What to include in a reference list

When an employer asks for a reference list, there are several pieces of information to include. Providing all the information right away helps the employer contact your references quickly. Details to include in a reference list include:

  • The reference name

  • Their position or title

  • The company or organisation they work for

  • Their street address

  • Their phone number

  • Their email address

  • A short description

Here's an example of an entry in a reference list:

Dr. Elizabeth Greene
Green Valley State University
4455 Collegiate Avenue
Sydney, NSW 2008
+61 947-4939

Dr. Greene was my dissertation advisor for my master's degree. After the completion of my program, I worked as her research assistant for over a year.

Related: How to Write a Resume Reference List (With Examples)

Tips to obtain references

If you're creating a references list for the first time, it may seem challenging to obtain references. However, there are tips to incorporate into this process so that it goes smoothly. Some tips to obtain references include:

Ask for permission

Before listing a reference, be sure to ask for their permission to give their information to the hiring manager. It's important that they know you included their name so they can expect someone to contact them about your abilities. Submitting a reference for someone takes time, so asking permission ensures they have the time to answer questions from the hiring manager.

Related: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Referee

Tell them details about the position you're applying for

For them to give a helpful reference, it's helpful to tell potential references the details about the positions you're applying for. This equips them to provide a reference that relates to the specific job or company. You can give your references a copy of the job description, and explain to them why you want the role. This information helps them deliver an in-depth, relevant reference.

Remind academic references

If you've been out of school for a while, remind academic references about the courses you took with them, or what projects you completed as a student. This is likely to refresh their memory about your performance as a student in their classes. A reminder helps them recall your best qualities when it's time to write the reference, especially since it's likely they advise many students each year.

Related: How to Write a Reference Letter

Express gratitude

It's important to let your references know that you appreciate their help. Since your references are typically people you have a professional relationship with, expressing gratitude helps maintain that relationship. You might choose to write them a thank-you note or email after they agree to act as a reference.

Related: How to Write a Thank You Letter (With Tips and Examples)

Update them on your progress

As you go through the interview process, update your references about your progress. Since they contributed to your application, they might feel personally invested in your success. Updating them is a way to keep them involved along the way.

Related: How to Prepare a List of References After an Interview

Example of how to obtain a reference

Here are examples of how to ask people to be a reference for you:

Work reference

Here's an example of asking a former supervisor to be a reference:

Dear Thomas,

I hope you're doing well and that the company is thriving.

I'm reaching out to ask if you might be willing to serve as a work reference for me. I'm applying for positions as a sales executive, and my time working for you gave me much of the knowledge I now have about the industry.

It would be so meaningful to receive a recommendation from you.

If you're willing to do so, I can send over all the relevant information about the positions I plan to apply for. Please reach out if you have any questions for me.

Best wishes,

Andrew Brown

Academic reference

Here's an example of asking a previous academic advisor to be a reference:

Dear Dr. Greene,

I hope this message finds you well.

In the years since I worked as your research assistant, I've been pursuing work related to my qualifications. I'm currently in the process of applying to management-level positions, and I'm in need of an academic reference.

Since you served as my advisor for my master's program and we worked together after that, I'd be feel honoured if you supplied a reference for me. I learned a great deal about the industry in your management and public policy courses, and I believe my master's thesis aligns with the work I desire to pursue. I believe you could attest to my knowledge in this field.

If you believe you have the capacity to do so, I'm happy to supply you with more details about the positions I'm interested in. Please let me know if you have any questions. I'm looking forward to hearing back from you soon.

Best regards,

Charlotte Williams

Character reference

Here's an example of asking someone to be a character reference:

Hi Jacob,

I hope this note finds you well!

I'm reaching out because I am planning to apply for jobs in a different field than the one I'm currently working in. Many of these applications require a character reference. It would mean a lot to me if you provided a reference on my behalf.

I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about the positions. Please let me know if you'd be able to help with this. I look forward to hearing from you!


Henry Jones

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