Who can be my referee?

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A referee is anyone who can vouch for what you are like as a person and what you are like to work with. When choosing someone to be your referee, think about people who can say good things about you to potential employers.

Who to ask

Don’t use family members or friends as referees. Unless you have worked with them, their opinion won’t count for much.

Ask someone you have worked with at school, in the community or in the workplace. A referee doesn’t just have to be your old boss. It could be a co-worker, or a customer or client you dealt with regularly.

You can still have referees if you haven’t had a job before. Your high-school teacher or principal, or the member of a charity you volunteer with, could be your referee. Anyone who knows what you’re like to work with and who is willing to speak in your favour would make a good referee. 

How do I go about getting a referee?

To get a referee, all you have to do is ask for their permission and their contact details.

When someone agrees to be your referee, it means that they'll let you pass on their contact details to any potential future employers. They should be ready and willing to answer a phone call or email to provide information that complements your job application or resume.

What do I need to tell them?

Make sure you ask each of your referees for their correct name, job title and current contact details. Let them know that you are applying for jobs and that they may be contacted and asked to answer some questions about you.

You could also let them know a little bit about the kind of jobs you are applying for (e.g., a job description and the name of the company that may contact them).

Employers usually contact referees after they've interviewed you, so it's a good idea to contact your referees after your interview to let them know to expect a call. This will also let you make sure your referees won't be overseas or unavailable when your potential new employer tries to call them.

Employers will not be impressed if referees sound surprised when they are called. This makes it look like you aren’t any good at communication or organisation.

How many do I need?

If you answered a job advertisement, the advertisement may specify how many referee contacts you need. If it's not specified by the ad, or if you got the interview through cold-calling or word of mouth, the usual number is two or three.

If you have more than three referees, pick the ones which best match the job you're going for and who will be easiest for the employer to contact.

Referees vs. written references

Most employers prefer to talk to a referee in person, so providing your referees' contact details is usually enough.

Contact details for referees should be the last thing on your resume. Some people prefer to write 'referees can be provided upon request', instead of providing their referees' contact details on their resume. They will then wait until they are asked to provide contact details for their referees.

If a job advertisement asks you to provide referees and their contact details in your application, then include them - but make sure you obtain your referees' permission before you submit your application.

There are situations, however, where written references may be useful. A written reference is like a letter from your referee to any future employer and includes a description of:

  • The kind of work you did
  • How well you did it
  • What you were like to work with

If you have written references, you should consider including one or two with your cover letter and resume, but only if they relate specifically to the skills or experience required for the job you’re applying for. Otherwise it’s best to leave all your references and certificates out of your application - the less your potential new employer has to read, the better.

What if I get the job?

Regardless of whether or not you got the job, you should always thank your referees after you know the result of your job application.

Even if you were unsuccessful, your referees may have some valuable information about the questions they were asked during the referee check. This kind of inside information could really help you with your next job application or interview.

For more information on writing job applications, check out our Writing a cover letter and Writing a resume pages.