How To Give A Reference (Plus Tips And Importance)

Updated 10 August 2023

If you are a supervisor, manager or mentor, you may give a reference for a former employee or student at some point in your career. Giving an honest reference can help a hiring manager determine if a candidate is suitable for an organisation and learn about their skills, character and experience. Knowing how to give a good reference can help you increase someone's chances of securing employment. In this article, we explain what references are, discuss how to give a reference, list a few different types and offer some tips to help you provide one.

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What Is A Reference?

A reference is someone who can confirm a candidate's claim about their education, work experience, career achievements, skills, character or personal life. Hiring managers use references to verify candidates' resumes and whether they are suitable for the position. If someone asks you to be their reference, be honest and emphasise their strengths if you are confident about their abilities. Doing so can increase the chances of the employer hiring them.

The hiring manager may ask you to answer a few questions about yourself to understand your relationship with the candidate. They may also request you write a letter of recommendation highlighting the candidate's work experience and skills to prove they can perform well in the workplace. Before agreeing to be someone's reference, it is important to consider your relationship with them and whether you have enough experience working with them. Some people who may ask you to be their reference include former students, juniors, employees, colleagues or neighbours.

Related: What Does Checking References Involve? (Plus Helpful Tips)

How To Give A Reference Correctly

Understanding how to give a reference correctly can significantly help increase a candidate's job prospects. Here is how you can prepare to give a reference:

1. Decide if you are the right person to give the reference

First, determine if you want to give the reference to the candidate. Consider giving a reference If the person was a colleague you worked with closely or a top performer. But if their work history was inconsistent, you may want to reconsider, as it can affect your reputation. If you refer a candidate incapable of performing well, you may look unprofessional or biased to the employer. Many companies have specific guidelines for employees to give references to their former colleagues. It is a good idea to ask your human resources department whether you can be a reference.

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2. Be honest

If you decide to be a reference for someone, it is best if the candidate is impressive to the hiring manager. You can help them impress the hiring manager by highlighting their strengths. Keep your answers honest and represent the candidate positively. If you feel you might not have relevant work experience to mention about them, it is best to avoid being their reference and politely decline the offer.

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3. Gather information

Before speaking to the hiring manager, it is good to talk to the candidate to learn the required information about them. Ask them about the position they are applying for and try to understand how you can convey their strengths in your reference. If you are going to send out a written reference, you can ask the candidate to send you a draft with all the important information about them, which you can then edit.

Related: What Is A Current Employer? (With Frequently Asked Questions)

4. Prepare your answers to common questions

When interviewing a reference, hiring managers ask common questions. You may prepare your answer to these questions well in advance, so you do not miss out on any important points during the interview. Here are some questions hiring managers may ask a reference:

  • Describe your relationship with the candidate.

  • Please share some of the candidate's strengths and weaknesses.

  • How does the candidate work in a team?

  • Can you share an incident where the candidate overcame a challenge?

  • What do you think are some of the candidate's significant accomplishments?

  • Do you think the candidate is reliable?

  • If you were the employer, would you hire this candidate for the position in question?

  • Describe the candidate's work ethic.

5. Be direct and concise

When answering the hiring manager's questions, try to keep your answers short and relevant. Avoid lengthy discussions about a specific topic and share examples only if you have them. If you do not have the required information to answer a question, inform the hiring manager you would prefer to skip the question. Doing so can avoid miscommunication and help you avoid any contradictions with the information that the candidate may have provided.

Importance Of Giving A Reference

References are an integral part of the hiring process. Hiring managers usually contact references in the final step of the process after conducting the interviews. Interviewing the references helps them finalise between the shortlisted candidates and confirm their intuitions. Although it might be challenging, being someone's reference can improve your reputation in the industry and help you in the future. For instance, if you agree to be a reference for a past colleague, they would likely do the same for you. Knowing how to give a reference well can also help you assist someone in securing a job.

Types Of References

Employers may ask for three types of references. Understanding their differences can help you give a proper answer during the interview. These types are:

Work references

People you have worked with, such as colleagues or juniors, may request work references. Hiring managers may ask for work references to understand the candidates' work duties at their previous jobs. This process helps them validate the details the candidate provided on their resume and during their interview.

Character references

Hiring managers seek character references from individuals who know the candidate personally, even if they have not worked together. The purpose of a character reference is to understand the candidate's life skills like reliability, communication, interpersonal skills and community engagement. Through this information, they can gauge how the person is outside work and how they behave around people.

Academic references

Candidates may include academic references when they have excellent academic history. Academic references include teachers, academic advisors or mentors who have spent enough time with the candidate to understand their abilities, personal character and dedication towards projects. A teacher giving a reference for a student can highlight their knowledge about subjects relevant to the role the candidate applied for and provide positive insights about their character and skills.

Related: How To Put References On A Resume (With Template And Examples)

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Tips For Giving A Reference

Consider these tips while giving a reference for a friend or colleague to support their candidacy during the hiring process:

  • Use specific examples. When talking about the strengths and achievements of the candidates, try to share specific instances where they exercised these skills. This can make the hiring manager feel confident about the facts you share and understand why the candidate is a good fit for the position.

  • Verify facts. Before speaking to the hiring manager, remember to verify all the data and information you wish to discuss. Doing so ensures that you do not mistakenly contradict the information the candidate might have shared with the hiring manager during their interview.

  • Sell yourself. At the beginning of the interview, consider sharing some information about your experience and work history with the candidate. This can help you establish yourself as a reliable source and encourage the employer to trust your opinion.

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