Nailing your references: key pieces of advice

When applying for a job, it's essential that every aspect of your application is watertight – your employment history, education and, perhaps most importantly, your references.

This last section can either take the form of a work reference, given by a previous boss who can account for the position you've held and detail any additional information about your skills, or a character reference, provided by someone who knows you well and will vouch for any personality traits you've detailed in your CV.

Having solid referees behind you will prove to your potential employer that you are who you say you are, demonstrating the achievements you've listed are valid. You'd be shocked at the number of people who exaggerate on their CVs, and nine times out of ten, they won't get away with it.

Here are some key pieces of advice you should bear in mind regarding your references:

Choosing your first referee

You want your application to be as up-to-date as possible, so your first reference should be a recent former employer, preferably someone who has worked directly with you and seen you in action. 

Only list your most recent boss if you're unemployed – if you're in work at the time of applying and don't want your boss knowing you're job-hunting, turn to your last employer before your existing job. It is also crucial that you inform the company you're applying with that you are in work, so they know they cannot contact your current manager.

Contacting a referee

It's essential that you get in touch with a potential referee before you put their name down in your application, and the way you do this will likely depend on how friendly you were and how long it has been since you worked with them.

You may want to send a polite email explaining that you want them as a referee as an initial measure, and if they don't respond to this, then follow it up with a phone call. Bear in mind that people with hospitality jobs are very busy, and it could take a few days for them to get back to you.

Adding referee details to your application

Often, companies will have a section on their application form asking you to fill in details of your references. This will just be basic information, such as their name, address and telephone number – the rest is up to the employer.

If all you need to provide is your CV, but you want to let the company know you have good references behind you, simply add 'References available on request' to the bottom of it. They can then do what they like with that information.

Find unbiased character references

While getting references from your previous employers should be a priority, if you've never had a job before then using character references is fine. You may be tempted to turn to your parent or friend, but we advise staying well clear, as you shouldn't use a referee that's likely to be biased.

Instead think about teachers, lecturers or members of your local community who know what you're like as an individual, but that employers can trust to be frank regarding your qualities.