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References & Referees | The Careers Service References & Referees – Oxford University Careers Service
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Choosing referees

When you choose your referees, make sure they are well informed about what you are applying for and why – try to choose individuals who will write you the best references. They should always be the people who will be best able to attest credibly to your talents in a professional/academic capacity. Always check with the referees beforehand to get their agreement.

Unless you are applying for an academic job or further study, you will typically need two referees. As a student, you should normally get a tutor and a past employer, if possible. They should not be relatives. If possible, let your referee know when you need the reference returned by.

Whether to provide references

If referees are asked for explicitly, make sure you provide their names and contact details. By not doing so you may fail to comply with the minimum requirements that have been set by the employer as part of their recruitment process and, in any event, are likely to raise the employer’s suspicion in terms of your former studies or work history.

However, if they are not explicitly asked for, many people now do not add referees to the end of a CV (or sometimes state ‘References available on request’), trusting that references will then only be requested by an organisation that is seriously considering your application.

One advantage of leaving them off is that referees’ details can take up valuable space on a CV. They will normally be asked for at a later date – or on a separate application form – if the recruiter is interested in you.

However, if the names alone of your references convey the strength of your application, for example if you are applying for an academic position and your referee is well known for his or her research in the relevant subject, it might be wise to leave them on!

References and rights

Does a previous employer have to provide a reference?

There is no legal obligation on an employer to provide a reference for an employee or an ex-employee. Employers are therefore entitled to refuse to provide a reference. However, an employer should have a consistent policy on providing references otherwise it could be at risk of an allegation of discrimination.

Can a referee provide a bad reference?

If you have any doubts about whether a referee will be able to highlight your strengths, discuss the matter with them in advance. Very few referees will ever give a ‘bad’ reference, if they’ve accepted the responsibility of giving a reference, but they might give a vague one if they haven’t known you well, or recall you only faintly!

Ultimately, there is a duty on those giving a reference to take reasonable care to ensure that the information it contains is true, accurate and fair. This therefore does not prevent the referee giving a bad reference, so long as it is accurate and a reasonable reflection on work related matters.

Can I check what a referee writes about me?

There is no obligation on your previous employer or education provider to give you a copy of the reference they have sent to your prospective employer. However, you can request a copy from the organisation that receives the reference, subject to their duties to any third parties.

This information was last updated on 09 January 2017.
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