Tips | Employment References
1. What Is An Employment Reference And How Do I Identify Appropriate References?
- An employment or work referee is a person who will be able to positively comment on your work-related skills, abilities, habits or character
- Possible work references (for university students) include former or current supervisors or co-workers at places of work or volunteer activities, professors who know your class or research work, sports coaches, adult friends (not family members) who have known you for a number of years, and anyone who knows you from extra-curricular activities
- If possible, choose references that can positively speak to your most relevant skills and qualifications as they relate to the position or organization you are applying to
Positive references can be an important factor in hiring decisions, so consider carefully who you will ask, and take some time to prepare your references (see “How do I ask someone to be a reference for me” below).
2. How Many References Do I Need?
- Recent graduates looking for full-time employment should try to have three to four references: two work-related (paid or unpaid work); one personal and one academic
- Students looking for summer employment should have two to three references: one or two work or volunteer related, and one personal
3. How Do I Ask Someone To Be A Reference For Me?
Once you have decided who you would like to use as a reference, it is important to:
- ask them if they would be able to provide you with a positive reference
- supply them with some information of your own: what types of jobs you are applying for, where you are in your job search process, your key skills and achievements; if you have not worked or interacted with your potential reference for a while, remind them of any key projects you worked on together or for them, your job duties, or important characteristics that you feel you have demonstrated to them in the past
- provide each reference with a copy of your most current resume
- gather their current contact information (work e-mail address, phone number)
- let your references know when you actually give their names to potential employers (at that time, provide them with the name of the person you gave their contact information to, as well as the position you applied for)
- periodically update your references on your job search progress, and be sure to thank them after you do receive a job offer
Try to secure your references ahead of time i.e. before you start your job search. This way, you’ll be ready to provide a list of references to a potential employer once they ask for them and with minimal delay.
4. When And In What Format Do I Give My References To A Potential Employer?
- Employers may ask for references with the job application, at the conclusion of an interview, or they will contact you after the interview and ask for them at that time.
Since this will vary by employer, it is important to seek permission from your references to share their contact info as early as possible.
- Do not include your references on your resume
- Prepare a separate reference sheet that includes your references and their complete contact information. Be sure to take this sheet with you to all interviews, in case you are asked for your references then. If you are not asked at the interview, you may be asked at a later date by the potential employer so keep a digital and print copy ready.
Sample Reference Sheet
Your contact information (use the same style used on your resume)
Ms. A. Jones
Head Cashier, ABC Superstore
Mississauga, Ont. L2L 5J4
Ms. Jones was my supervisor at ABC Superstore while I worked as a cashier for a year.
Professor N. Larkin, Philosophy
University of Toronto Mississauga
3359 Mississauga Rd.,
Mississauga, Ont. L5L 1C6
Professor Larkin taught me a 400-level philosophy course for an 8-month period during my final year of undergrad.
5. Examples Of Questions A Potential Employer Might Ask A Reference
- Please describe how you know the candidate, and for how long.
- What are some of the candidate’s key strengths? Are there any skills, personality style that you think they need to improve on?
- Please describe the candidate’s skills in the area of communication.
- How effective is the candidate in dealing with customers? Can you give me an example?
- Please describe how well the candidate works as part of a team.
- How well does the candidate receive feedback?
- Please describe the candidate’s organizational skills.
- Was the candidate always present and punctual?
- Would you hire this candidate again?
- Do you have any additional information or comments about this candidate?
6. What About Reference Letters?
- Although most employers will not ask for reference letters, you can attach them to your reference sheet if you have one or two that are relevant.
- When you leave a job or internship, you might consider asking for a reference letter from a supervisor, in case you are not able to contact that individual later on when you need to use them as a reference.
7. Academic References
- An academic reference focuses on academic ability and suitability for program of study
- A professor or other academic supervisor typically provides a reference in a letter form
- For more information on asking for this type of reference please see the Academic References Tip Sheet.
8. Additional Resources In The UTM Career Centre
- Susan Britton Whitcomb Resume Magic. (pg. 498 as related to References)
- Martin, Carole Perfect Phrases for the Perfect Interview (pg. 130 for answering reference-related questions during the interview)
- For more information about references, interviewing or your job search visit our e-book collection found in CLNx, then look under resources.
Please note that this information is subject to change. It is best to refer to the original sources for the most up-to-date information. Updated August 2021.