What Is a Job Reference? How Many References Should You Have?


What is a job reference? Is it really that important and how many references should you have at the ready before applying for jobs?

There are numerous stages to finding and successfully landing a job and some criteria that need to be met along the way. One critical piece of the job search puzzle is the job reference.

Let’s take a deeper look at references and the role they play in landing you a job.

What Is a Job Reference?

A job reference forms part of the paperwork used as the selection criteria by the employer or HR department when sorting through job applications. When an individual writes up a resume or cover letter making claims regarding their experience, skills, attitude and personal attributes, this is all fine and good but these claims are somewhat “unproven”.

The idea of job references is to provide the information stated by a third party that backs up at least some of those claims. A reference is like a letter of recommendation, often stating the reasons why this individual believes you would be a good employee and an asset to the company or business.

What Should Be Contained In a Job Reference?

Ideally, a job reference will be written by a previous employer or someone within that organisation that has some authority, such as a manager. Sometimes, references are written in a somewhat formulaic manner, which is used as a guideline regarding what to say and include in the reference.

Generally speaking, the reference will make brief statements about your previous job role, what your responsibilities were, the skills that you acquired and so on. There will also be mentions about your work ethic, your attitude, reliability and other personal traits.

When obtaining a job reference from a previous employer, you might even ask to have certain points included or excluded from your reference to achieve a well-balanced job reference.

A potential employer wants to know that you have the skills and experience to perform the advertised job role. What they also want to know is that you’ll be a productive and reliable worker and someone who will be a good fit for the team and the culture of the company. Job references often play a major role in determining these things.

When a vacant position is advertised, employers can potentially receive hundreds of job applications, including cover letters and a myriad of resumes to sort through. Often, it will be the job references that differentiate one candidate from another and ultimately lead to a decision on who to hire. References can help save time and also make the hiring decision more accurate.

A poor decision during the hiring stage could mean going back to the beginning and starting the process all over again if the first person didn’t work out. This takes a lot of time and money, so job references play a pivotal role in getting hired.

How Many References Are Necessary?

Have you been asking yourself the question, ‘How many references should I have?’ This is a fair question and one that deserves an answer. Some people erroneously believe that job references are a thing of the past and not relevant today. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you apply for a job in today’s competitive job market and don’t include any references, chances are your resume will be overlooked in favour of individuals who have included one or more job references.

Now, while you don’t want to load up your application with too much paperwork, it’s beneficial to your job search efforts to have more than one reference, if possible.

Supplying two or three references is ideal. It’s enough to lend credibility to your application without going overboard on credentials and paperwork. Although one job reference is generally better than none, just one reference may not be enough to win an employer over so they choose you for the position.

Also, don’t make the mistake of assuming your references won’t be checked. More often than not they will be.

The Takeaway

Job references are still very relevant today, so aim at having two or three references available to present to prospective employers. Include references with your job applications and you greatly increase your chances of getting hired.


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