There are so many common mistakes when applicants provide referees, all which can impact your chances of getting the job offer.

Common mistakes made by applicants:


Impact of this choice
Choosing a referee that you have not spoken to in years. Your referee struggles to recall the work you did, what you were like interpersonally and as such the call is a waste of time for the recruiter. Answers like “I can’t really remember this person well” doesn’t resonate well and also makes recruiters ask the question why you provided this referee in the first place.
Your referee doesn’t know you very well. Imagine… you have chosen your referee that you think will help you get the job, but what they say about you is quite the opposite. “Oh, that’s a little hard for me to comment on, I don’t know them well enough”.  This wastes everyone time and once again makes recruiters ask the question why you provided this referee in the first place.


Providing a referee, but you forgot / didn’t tell them they were about to receive a call to complete a reference for you. As recruiters, this has happened many a time to us, you may wonder what’s wrong with this. Let us paint the picture.

Recruiter: “Hello, I am calling as Sam has listed you as referee, are you free to speak now?”

Referee: “A referee for Sam? Um, I didn’t know about this, well no, it’s not a convenient time, I’m really busy but I can give you a few minutes at the most, can we rush through this please?”


From here, the call is rushed, the referee is annoyed at the recruiter for calling and at you for not telling them. You’ll be lucky if you get a good reference from this situation.

Providing a referee who was a colleague and not a direct manager. This is never advisable. All references should be completed by someone you have reported into ie: your direct manager. Questions asked will be about your performance, output, interpersonal skills and achievements, all information which cannot come from a colleague. If a colleague can answer some of these, they may not be experienced enough in providing a reference which will do you justice.
Providing a lecturer or tutor over a manager.** Whilst lecturers or tutors are well spoken and usually quite positive, they know little about your performance, output or how you behave on the job. Historically references we have completed with lecturers or tutors have been quite high level and not very informative.

** We understand many of you have not had work experience, so in this case a lecturer or tutor is acceptable, however if you have worked, you should be providing someone from your work place. Don’t get confused between providing a lecturer who thinks you are great because you are a star student over a manager who can provide far more valuable insights in a work context.

Do not fake it or provide a friend to pretend to be someone they are not.


NEVER FAKE IT- you will be found out and often, this may cost you a job offer, even if you have performed really well during the recruitment process.


So how do you choose a good referee?

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Our top tips in choosing a referee are:

  • Choose someone you have worked with for at least 6 months (if possible)
  • A referee should be someone you have reported to
  • A referee should (hopefully) know you on a work and interpersonal level. What we mean by this is they should know your persona at work and how you interact with others, not necessarily what you are like on the weekend
  • Choose someone you can comfortably say knows your strengths, weaknesses and achievements
  • You should be confident in knowing that your referee is going to speak well of you, not someone who wants to sabotage your job prospects. You should not select someone who has a negative demeanour by nature and may inadvertently say something negative about you in error
  • Choose a referee who is relatively recent, within the past 3 years where possible

Final top tip:

When requesting someone to be your referee, you must must must prepare them for the phone call. Firstly by advising them to expect a call, but also by telling them about what the job is and company details, what you will be responsible for and what you may be required to achieve where possible. To help you succeed, it’s also a great idea to remind them of your achievements or awards received.

Choose well!

UC Grad Recruiter.