The Do’s & Don’ts to consider before choosing your referee for your CV

Who you choose as a referee could put your job offer in jeopardy. Our Director of Grocery Retail Recruitment, Nikki Murran, outlines the Do’s and Don’ts to take into consideration before you give your prospective employer contact information of who you decide to speak on your behalf. 

Before my life as a recruiter, I worked in retail as an Area Manager for one of the large discounters for over five years. This week I received a phone call asking for a reference for a Store Manager who worked in my district 15 years ago. Whilst I remember him well, and fondly, I did wonder if I was the best person to give this reference all this time later. I know I would not like to be measured now by the 15 year ago version of me! My management style has evolved, my emotional intelligence has been fine-tuned and I am a lot less easy to overwhelm!  

It got me thinking of some Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to reference checking that I could share this month.  

Do be honest starting with your CV. Make sure your CV is accurate, including dates and titles. Don’t be tempted to exaggerate or overstate – it will come out, if not during the interview or reference stage then certainly when you start your new job! Most employers appreciate honesty and would much prefer to invest in training to cover any skills gaps rather than a candidate trying to blag their way through an interview for a role they are not ready for. Dishonesty is usually easy to detect and will lead to immediate rejection from an interview process.  

Don’t give referees whom you did not report to. I can’t count the number of times candidates have supplied a colleague’s details rather than their line manager – whilst this is usually done without malice it comes across as otherwise. Consider which of your references can best discuss the traits and qualities you possess that directly relate to the job you are applying for. 

Do make your ex-employer aware you are providing their details and that they are comfortable speaking on your behalf. For example, I remember talking to a referee who didn’t remember the candidate and another who was shocked to have been used as they had finished up on awful terms. Before you submit a reference list to a prospective employer, it’s a good idea to contact each and give them an update on your recent career and the role you are applying for. For example, if you are applying for a job that involves a strong focus on fresh foods you could highlight this and remind your reference of some relevant success you had in their business. This is likely to make for more engaged referees willing to speak on your behalf.  

Do make sure your referees are contactable! It goes without saying, but if you haven’t flagged to your referee to expect a call they may not answer or return in a timely manner putting your job offer in jeopardy! Make it easy for an employer to speak to your references by providing clear contact information for each individual, including the person’s name, phone number and e-mail address. You might even note the best time of day to reach him or her. 

So what about Do’s and Don’ts when you are the one conducting references on a prospective employee? As a recruitment agency, we always carry out thorough reference checks on all our candidates, but what about when you are recruiting directly? Our advice here is to make sure when contacting a referee, you have a list of questions ready that are relevant to the role the candidate is being considered for. For example – are they reliable, trustworthy, good with customers etc.  

You should highlight the role the candidate is being considered for as well as a quick update of where they have worked since they left the referee’s employ. This will give them a better framework to base the reference around. 

We also always ask if they would recommend them for re-employment. It requires a definite response so it usually gives a fairly direct assessment of their opinion of the candidate!  

Finally, it’s also always worthwhile to determine why a candidate left their previous role as it can give some understanding of what motivates or de-motivates them.  

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