Job interviews: what is a referee?

Monday, October 19, 2020

Let’s take a look at what (or rather, who) a referee is, and the protocols involved in nominating one…

A referee is not a “reference”; it is the name and contact details of someone who can vouch for your ability to do the specific job. After your interview, and if you are shortlisted for the job, your referees are contacted by phone or email and questioned about your work skills and experience. They should not, under the EEO Act ask for personal details about you.

A “reference” is a written document, given to you by a previous employer, and recommending you for a future position. It is more correctly called a “testimonial”. References were common in the past, but currently recruiters aren’t interested in them and want to make personal contact with your referees. But, if you have a good reference from a recognised business, it would do no harm to attach a copy to your application. It might help.

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It is often requested, or even demanded, that you give your current, or last, boss, manager or supervisor, as a referee, but this can be difficult at times. The difficulty might be because:

  • You have had a bad experience, or have had a difficult personal relationship with that person and are worried about getting negative comments.
  • You don’t want them to know you are applying for a new position and you think you will be sacked if they find out you are moving on.
  • You know your boss wants to keep you in your current position and will give you a negative report so you miss the job and stay where you are.
  • You have been out of the workforce for several years and do not have a recent referee.

Every recruiter knows that good staff can have bad experience with a manager, so it is better to be open and honest and make a short statement, such as, “I have given Ms Mary Smith, my previous manager, as my primary referee because she has had more contact with me and knows more about my work skills than my current manager.” If they insist you might have to be even more explicit as to why you don’t want to name your current manager.

If you have been out of the workforce for some time, you should explain that and then offer someone who could speak about you. It could be an employer whom you know well, or a supervisor from a voluntary job, or even someone who can only supply a character reference.

Always contact the person you wish to use as a referee and get their permission first. Discuss the job and the selection criteria with them so that they know what they will be asked about. The more they know the more helpful they can be to you.

You will never know what your referee actually said about you when contacted, so be very careful who you choose.

Buy the book: Write a Winning Job Application, 6th edition

Available in hard copy (express delivery nationwide) or e-book