References are an integral part of the job application process. An employer requires a reference as a method to understand whether you are the right candidate for the role.

What is a job reference?

It is common for employers to ask for a reference before accepting a candidate for a job. A reference is a way for the employer to check you are trustworthy, able, and reliable for the role. Employers usually ask for a reference in the final stages of the application process.

The person who provides your job references is known as the referee. Your referee may give details about your character, skills, talents and how well you performed in your previous role.

You will need to provide the contact details of your referee including name, relationship to you, phone number and email address.

If you require further support with your job application, visit our specialised guides on how to find an accessible employer, disclosing your disability and interview preparation.

Who can give a job reference?

Almost anyone who knows you can give you a reference for a job; the only exceptions are family members. When deciding who could provide you with a job reference, choose someone who knows your character, skills and abilities.

While it is not a requirement, it is most common to obtain a reference from your employer. While you are still working for your employer, then asking for a reference to change jobs is deemed part of your employment. Employers will be experienced and expectant to be asked about references. If you haven’t worked before or think your employer won’t give you a reference, then you can ask for a reference from someone else.

Typically, someone will act as a good referee if they are professionals rather than friends. There are a range of contacts in your life that make great options for a job referee; these include:

  • Teachers, lecturers, instructors from school, college or university
  • Work experience managers
  • Volunteer managers
  • Employers
  • Work colleagues or managers
  • Long-term friends

Asking for a reference

Ask your preferred referee if they are happy to provide your reference. How best to ask will depend on your relationship; if they are friends or a close contact, then a quick phone call or text is appropriate. If you are reaching out to a professional, then it is best to send a polite email. Most professionals, including your previous teachers, employers, or volunteer coordinators will be aware and expectant of job reference requests.

Sometimes the employer may ask for more than one referee. You may choose to provide one referee with a professional connection, such as a previous employer or work coach, and one referee with a closer relationship to you, such as a long-term friend.

Your rights

In general, there is no legal requirement for anyone, including your employer, to provide a job reference. However, it is unlawful for an employer to unfairly discriminate on the basis of your disability, such as refusing to give a reference or giving a bad reference.

Sometimes reference requirements are part of your employment contract. Under these circumstances, your employer must provide a reference when asked to do so. It is discriminatory for an employer’s reference to include comments about your disability. The same applies to verbal comments when the reference is given over the telephone.

Visit our guide for further information on your rights as a disabled employee.