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Ask Lawrence: Who are the best people to ask to act as references?

26 Sep 12:00 By Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers References

Love them or hate then, reference checks are a vital part of the recruitment process in Australia. They’re frequently used to reinforce your skills and abilities that you’ve stated, as well as perhaps helping to ease any concerns that an employer might have uncovered during your interview process. For that reason, choosing the right people to act as your references can often prove to be critical in ensuring you successfully land the role, or to convince the recruitment agency that they should work with you.

Here are some tips to consider when it comes to determining who are the best people to ask to act as your references.

  • Make it someone who can actually do a reference check for you.

There are some companies that have a policy preventing them from providing references for former employees. I know first hand the disappointment of having invested years with a company only to find out after I’ve left that it is company policy not to provide reference checks and will only confirm your title and the dates that you worked there. There are multiple reasons why a company may go down this path, mostly to cover themselves from potential legal and privacy concerns so be sure before you provide their details that they have checked to ensure that they can act as a reference on your behalf.

  • Make it someone who can speak easily about your skills.

For a while there, it seemed to be not uncommon for people to offer up the most senior person in the company that they had just worked with. While it might look impressive to offer a Managing Director as a reference, when it came to asking them about the finer details of what you did in the position, they were unable to answer it because they didn’t work that closely with you.  

For that reason, it is often a wise idea to ask the person who directly managed you to act as a reference for you, or someone who was working with you closely on a day to day basis. They’ll be able to talk about all of those unique skill sets that you have that really made a massive and positive impact on your work.

  • Make it someone who can be easy to get hold of.

Keep in mind that the higher up the hierarchy someone is, the harder it often is to get hold of them. As with the previous point, while it might be impressive to list the head of the company, it isn’t going to mean terribly much if it results in five failed attempts to get hold of them and the Recruiter / HR person unable to complete their process.

Additionally, make sure it is someone who actually has the time to be able to do the reference properly and give your request the respect it deserves. When you feel that people are rushing you through the process to get you off the phone, it often conveys an unspoken ‘I-really-don’t-have-the-time-to-do-this-and-I-just-don’t-care’ message and an underlying tension that goes with that.  

  • Make it someone who can be articulate.

How do you think you would feel if you knew someone was describing everything you did as just ‘good’? I hate to break it to you but there are many people out there who respond to reference questions with that one word. Some times this can be down to a lack of time as mentioned in the previous point although other times, it can simply be down to the fact that the person isn’t actually that articulate or expressive. While we don’t want the other extreme of people who talk too much, or who forget that it is a reference for someone else and start to give you their life story, you do want someone who is going to be able to offer insight about what you did well and how you were able to achieve that.

  • Make it someone who knows to expect a call.

When I ask people for their references now, I always ask if that person is expecting my call. If they’re not, then I often suggest that the person should let them know that I will be calling.

Why? A couple of reasons here.

Firstly, they’re more likely to take my call and to provide me with the information that I need if they know to expect my call. They’re also more likely to ensure that they’re available or to let me know suitable times where I can speak with them.

The second reason is that there is nothing worse than phoning someone who was not only NOT expecting my call but who also was unaware that the person had even placed them down to be a reference.

Many years ago when I first started in recruitment, I experienced a reference check moment that could only be described as ‘painfully awkward’. I had been given the details for someone to act as a reference however when I called them, they were completely surprised that they had been nominated. They then proceeded to tell me how awful the candidate was. Sadly, I didn’t have enough experience at the time to push back on the client in a way that I should’ve and in the end, I went back to the candidate and suggested that he should reconfirm with his references about their suitability to prevent an issue like this from happening again. Some would argue that, as he had not even asked for permission for that person to be his reference, he got what he deserved however I think we need to show a little compassion and empathy here and realise that some working relationships just don’t work out.

Whenever you apply for a job, as you progress through the process, it is inevitable that you’ll be asked to provide details of people who can speak on your behalf about your skills. When you consider that this is often one of the last steps in the process and that it may even form part of the decision making process, who you choose to speak on your behalf is something that should be taken very seriously. Consider the points above and benefit from someone who can answer the questions easily, confidently and with articulation. 

If you have any thoughts, questions or simply would like to get in touch with me and offer up a topic for the next Ask Lawrence, you can contact me on or you can find me and connect with me on LinkedIn.