Most people ask former employers to write them a reference before they leave a job, but you do not always have to ask people that have employed you for this. If you have got on particularly well with or had an excellent business relationship with a customer, a client or manager from another organisation, you could always ask them to provide you with a reference and this would be perfectly acceptable.
Under no circumstances should you ask a family member or someone that you have a close personal relationship with for a job reference, as not only is this biased, but it is also unprofessional. If you do not have much work experience because you are young and straight out of school, college or university, it would be wise to ask your tutor or lecturer for a reference if you need one.
Some argue that it is no longer necessary to write the phrase "References available on request" at the bottom of your CV. This is generally taken as a given, and it is assumed that you would be able to present the names and contact details of two or three referees when asked at the correct time.
At the first stage of reading through numerous CVs, an employer would not have the time to read through a load of references as well, and if you were not picked for an interview, including your references would be superfluous. At this stage, an employer would only want to be presented with relevant information that is provided in a clear and concise manner. Although you wouldn't usually be asked to provide your references during the initial interview, it is always a good idea to have them prepared just in case.
If you have received a job offer in writing, it will usually state that it is conditional on the receipt of a satisfactory reference. It is only at this point that you will need to provide your future employer with the names and contact details of your referees. Don't think that your future employer won't check your references, because he will, maybe not all of them, but usually at least one. Try to include your most recent employer as a referee. Be aware that if the reference that you provide is unsatisfactory, the employer will have the right to withdraw his offer of a job on this basis.
Job references do not have to be pages and pages long saying what a brilliant employee you were and how you were great at your job. It can be as little as a few lines detailing the dates during which you were employed with that company and your position there.
Generally your job reference should include the following:
- Length of time you were employed, including dates
- Your position and job title within the company
- A short description of your responsibilities
- A note about your time-keeping and attendance
- Your reason for leaving
A job reference should not include medical details or any details of previous criminal convictions.
It is highly important for you, the person writing the job reference, and the person who will be reading it, that all of the information contained within is 100% accurate, fair and reasonable. If the reference is inaccurate or misleading, for you, it could cost you the job, for the person that wrote the reference it could lead to a court case and for the future employer, it could mean losing the perfect candidate for their position on offer.
Ideally, your reference should focus on the positive and give a true and accurate picture of your character and your capabilities in your former job.
If you think that your previous employer has written unfair comments about you, you do have the legal right to ask to see the reference itself and make your own judgement. If you deem the reference as defamatory, you should speak to a lawyer, particularly if this reference has cost you the job and if you are still in your old job, you could sue for constructive dismissal.
At the same time, an employer does not have to write you a reference if he doesn't want to, unless specifically required to do so legally, a condition that would be stipulated in your employment contract.