How To Get The Best Character Reference

How To Get The Best Character Reference


Character references

When you are offered a new position, your new employer will usually ask for contact details of two referees. Once of these will almost certainly be your previous employer, and here the reference that will be sent is likely to be a highly formal, structured, perhaps rather brief, reference from the company’s human resources department.

Sometimes your new employer will ask for a second similar reference from the HR function of your last but one employer, however in many cases the company will not actually specify who should supply the second reference. This gives you the chance to obtain a character reference – from someone who has known you in a professional capacity; or from someone who you have dealt with outside of work in a sports club, voluntary organisation, community organisation or similar; or from a teacher or tutor from an educational establishment you have attended.

Ideally, you should ensure that the person you ask to be your referee knows you very well, and has known you for an extended period of time. Otherwise, the reference that is submitted may be ambiguous and lack detail, and it may not please your new employer to receive something like this.

References from close relatives are best avoided, as are those from people you have only come across in a social setting.

A character reference should also include:

  • Details of how the referee knows the individual, and for how long they have known them
  • Specific information about your attitude to tasks
  • The skills you can demonstrate, and how these mean you would be an asset to your new company
  • The referee’s contact details, so the company can contact them to seek clarification of anything they include in the reference

If your new role requires a high degree of integrity and honesty, then your new employer might actually prefer a character reference to a bland, formal reference from an HR officer. If you are seeking your first job; are returning after a lengthy career break; or only have short-term, agency type work on your CV in recent years, then a reference from your last employer might not be appropriate, and your new employer might ask for two character references in these circumstances.

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