Employment references

Choosing the right people to be your employment references is a crucial step in the job-search process. This page will provide you with important information to help you choose the most appropriate references for your job hunt.

What is a reference?

A reference, or an employment reference, is someone who can comment on your personal character, work ethic, or past work experiences. References should be given to employers on request, which means you should usually wait for the employer to ask for your references before giving them a reference list.

The objective of a reference is to give your potential employer a positive and honest depiction of your character and your work ethic. An employer will contact your references to get a better understanding of who you are as a person and a worker, to make sure you’re the right fit for the position they’re looking to fill.

Types of references

There are two types of references:

Character reference

Also known as a personal reference, a character reference is a person who will vouch for your personal character. This person is usually someone you know outside work, who is not a relative or a social friend. This reference could be someone you’ve helped or someone who knows you very well, like a teacher, religious leader, coach, or club leader.

Professional reference

A professional reference is someone who will vouch for your professional work ethic and workplace experience. This is someone you have known in a professional context, like a former boss or supervisor at a place you worked or volunteered.

Choosing your references

Employers usually ask for three references. If employers want more or fewer references, they usually say so.

Make sure you ask for permission before using people as references. This will allow you to give your reference a heads-up on the position you’re applying for, and it will give them a chance to prepare examples to let the employer know how great you really are.

The employer will be contacting your references, so you’ll need to provide the employer with a reference list. This usually includes their full name, address, and phone number. This can be their personal information or business information, whatever the reference is comfortable with providing.

Example of reference list

Top-five tips for choosing references

  1. Think ahead. Although reference checks typically happen during the final stages of the hiring process, it’s a good idea to be proactive. Think about who your references could be, let them know that you’re applying for jobs, and ask if they would be willing to be a reference for you.
  2. Pick someone who knows you well. This will allow the employer to get an accurate, honest, and realistic description of your personality and work ethic. You want a reference who can easily speak about your strengths and abilities.
  3. Update your reference list often. Make sure your references are as current as possible, and link them to your most recent job, volunteer, or community experience.
  4. Presentation counts. Your reference list should be on a clean sheet of plain paper. Use an easy-to-read, 12-point font like Arial or Times New Roman to match your résumé.
  5. Say "thank you". Your reference is doing you a favour by speaking to an employer to help you land a job. Be sure to thank them for helping you out.