CV references

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 - Article, CV Writing, How to Write a CV, references, tutorial

CV Writing

Never, ever provide references until you are asked for them, and only after you have briefed your chosen people.

Early selection:

Always get permission first.┬áBefore sending out your CV, as you don’t know how quickly the recruitment process will take, make sure you have talked to your references.

Ideally you should meet them, as this is an opportunity to provide a briefing as to what you are applying for, and a pre-thank you: a coffee would be very appropriate.If not, at least make telephone contact with them – eMail is not good enough.

Although I provide this advice, I know that in the coming week a candidate will provide me as a recruitment agent references who are no longer available on the contact details they have listed – you lose instant credibility, and will often be rejected from the process.


You should usually provide two references, ideally:

  • One from recent work experience
  • One additional, ideally from: work, academic, social
  • Have one in reserve, just in case

Existing employers:

The problem with referencing existing employers is that clearly you have to tell them you have applied for another job before they give the reference. Around 20% of references we gain as recruitment agents from existing employers are bad – around half out of alignment with what we suspect the existing employer will provide. This should not come as a surprise, and in fact it is a compliment that your employer is willing to say how awful you are just to keep you. If you think you may get a negative reference from your existing employer, make the recruiter or HR professional handling the process aware of that when references are asked for in the process. As I have said above, we almost expect it in some cases, so it will not come as a surprise.


Academic referees normally have no difficulty in commenting on students’ intellectual abilities. However, they may not feel on quite such firm ground when asked about their student’s other qualities.

Commercial and personal referees may not have been asked to provide a reference before, so ask the recruiter or HR professional handling the process to provide you with a written briefing or process. Only once you have this provide full contact details

Academic CV’s:

These normally include three references:

  • The person who is supervising your research
  • Another academic
  • Someone, perhaps an employer, who can comment on your personal abilities

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