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Writing References

When you are applying for a new job, it is inevitable that you will be asked to supply references from a previous employer.

The most appropriate person to provide the reference will be you last direct line manager, as that person will have the necessary experience of working with you and will know your strengths and weaknesses.

Assuming that you got along with your line managers, these people should always be your first port of call.

The very best way to deal with the reference situation is to anticipate it.

You know that all employers will ask for references, so you need to prepare accordingly.

I suggest that before asking somebody to be your referee, that you actually write the reference yourself and give the letter (or Word file) to them to sign and date.

This method allows you to control what's said about you and also makes it very easy for your referee.

I'm not suggesting that you write your own references here - it is essential that you understand the idea here is simply to influence what's being said about you if at all possible.

You should make it clear to your referee that you are simply trying to make it easier for him/her to provide the reference and save them some time.

You should NEVER submit a self-written reference to a potential employer yourself. It's quite different when the referee uses your words though!

Be aware that some employers won't accpet letters of reference and will instead send out a questionnaire to the referee asking specific questions.

In these cases, a letter of reference will be pretty much useless.

However, for when they are applicable, here's an example that you could use:

Referee's Name
Referee's Job Title
Referee's Employer
Referee's Employer Address

New Employer Contact
New Employer Job Title
New Employer Company Name
New Employer Address

Dear Employer Contact,

Thank you for your letter requesting a reference for [YOUR FULL NAME] which I am pleased to provide.

[YOUR FIRST NAME] was employed by [REFEREE'S EMPLOYER NAME] in the capacity of [YOUR JOB TITLE] until [DATE LEFT] and I was his/her immediate line manager.

During the time that he/she worked with me, I found him/her to be conscientious, reliable and trustworthy.

[YOUR FIRST NAME] was a popular member of the team and was always keen to pass on knowledge to more junior staff.

Whilst sorry to lose [YOUR NAME], I understand that he/she had reached a plateu with [REFEREE'S EMPLOYER NAME] and that the time had come to move on.

It is without hesitation that I recommend him/her for employment with your company.

Should you need further clarification on any point, please feel free to contact me on [TELEPHONE NUMBER].

Yours sincerely,


You'll note that the letter is pretty vague, doesn't oversell, yet contains a recommendation to employ - which all good references should do.

It is not legal (at least in the UK), for an ex-employer to provide a negative reference, but remember that they can always refuse to provide a reference, which speaks volumes!

Therefore, when resigning from a position, always try to stay on good terms with your immediate line manager, as that is the person who will most likely be contacted by potential future employers.


If you are applying to recruitment agencies, whether on a speculative basis or for a specific role, do not under any circumstances, name your referees on your CV.

Good recruiters use referee details for their own purposes in one of the following ways:

  1. If they have never dealt with your current employer previously, they will try to use your referee as a way into the company - perhaps sending speculative CV's of candidates to fill your old job. They know you're leaving, so it's a great opportunity for them to score a nice placement that they wouldn't otherwise have known about.
  2. They could call your contact with a view to head-hunting him. Or worse, they might be looking for someone a little more senior or experienced than you - and your manager might just fit the bill!

The recruitment world is a dog eat dog one. There is no loyalty to you as a candidate. You are simply the route to a lucrative fee - typically 20% of your first year's salary.

My advice therefore, when applying to a position via a recruitment agency, is to leave off referee names and contact information and replace with a line saying, "References Available By Request" - but don't supply them to the agency. Supply them to the employer once you have been offered the job.