Who can I use as a reference for my first job? (A guide)

Updated 19 April 2023

If you've applied for your first job, you may increase your chances of securing the job by providing the employer with your references. A professional reference is a person who knows you well enough to be able to attest to your academic achievements and acknowledge your work experience and other credentials. When entering the workforce, understanding who you can ask to be your referee is important. In this article, we answer, 'Who can I use as a reference for my first job?', explain the importance of using references and show you how to ask someone to give you a reference.

Who can I use as a reference for my first job?

To learn the answer to, 'Who can I use as a reference for my first job?', it's helpful to make a list of people who can objectively assess your skills and professional abilities. Asking the following people to become your referees is usually a good idea:

Your dissertation supervisor

If you're a student or a recent graduate, you can ask your dissertation supervisor to be a reference for your first job. As someone who's guided you throughout your dissertation research and writing process, your supervisor has spent enough time with you to learn about your academic potential and approach toward work. To decide if you want your thesis supervisor to be your referee, think about your performance and attendance rates, as they're likely to take that into consideration when writing your reference letter.

Related: How to ask for an academic reference (with template)

Your lecturer

Although you wouldn't normally spend as much time with your other lecturers as with your thesis supervisor, it may be a good idea to ask a lecturer to be your reference. Doing this can be effective, especially if you've applied for a job in a field in which the lecturer also specialises. To decide which professor to approach and ask for a reference letter, choose a person with whom you've worked closely in the past, for example, during regular seminars.

A community leader

If you've actively participated in any community events or projects, it's a good idea to ask your community leader to be your reference. For example, this can be your former Scout leader or sports coach. Because these community leaders have seen you using your key skills, including communication and teamwork skills, their reference letters can be a valuable addition to your job application.

Related: FAQ: how many references should I have? (Plus tips)

A friend or family member you've worked for

If you've done work for a family member or a friend, you can also use them as a reference. To decide if this is a good idea, think about the type of work you've done and if it's relevant to the role for which you've applied. When contacting referees, hiring managers want to know if you have the necessary hard and soft skills to perform your duties and adjust to the workplace. It's significant that the friend or family member can discuss how you deal with stress or describe your approach to solving work-related problems.

An institution for which you've volunteered

A volunteering supervisor can be a great reference that provides the hiring manager with insightful and detailed information about your professional abilities, skills and potential as an employee. Showing a potential employer that you have volunteering experience can be impressive and increase your chances of getting the job. It also indicates that you're a reliable and responsible person who likes helping others and has a strong work ethic.

Related: Character reference: definition, examples and writing tips

An older student you shared a class with

If it's difficult for you to obtain reference letters from a lecturer or former leader, consider asking an older student you shared a class with to be your referee. Other students can be good references if they have insight into your personality and work ethic. When deciding who to approach about this, think about any group projects or presentations you've worked on with other people. It's best to choose someone who's worked with you in a group because they might be more confident discussing your communication style and other capabilities.

Why it's important to use a professional reference

Using a professional reference allows you to validate the information in your CV. Although providing hiring managers with contacts who can vouch for your skills and potential won't guarantee that you get the job, it can increase your chances of advancing to the next round of interviews. This usually happens when the reference letters or the referee talk about you positively. Contacting people you've asked to be your references also allows the hiring manager to gain more insight into any specific responsibilities you had or your work and academic accomplishments.

Related: 'I don't have any references for a job application': a guide

How to ask someone to be your referee

After selecting the right people to discuss your skills and work potential with recruiters, it's critical that you ask them to be a reference in an appropriate manner. Here are the steps to follow:

1. Contact them in advance

After making a shortlist of people who can be your references, be sure to contact each one individually before listing them on your application. This way, you can make sure you have their consent to share their details with the recruiter. This step also helps you determine if they are likely to have time to write a reference letter or complete a survey about your performance. For example, if you find out that your former lecturer or community leader is going through a challenging time, you may consider asking someone else to be your referee.

Read more: How to ask someone to be your referee: email examples

2. Provide information about your job search

When speaking to your potential references, share some more details about your job search with them. Make sure to explain what positions you're interested in and how working in those roles translates to the career path you've chosen for yourself. Having this information allows them to speak positively on your behalf and choose which accomplishments or skills to mention in their letters or when speaking with the recruiter.

Related: Practical tips you can use when asking for a job reference

3. Ask politely

Once you make sure the person has time to be your reference and knows your goals, mention how they've influenced your growth. You can talk about the different occurrences during which you had the chance to work with them. Always give your potential referee an option to decline by using neutral language, such as 'Would you feel comfortable being a reference for me?' or 'I understand your time is valuable, so don't hesitate to let me know if this isn't a good time'. If they hesitate, you can always move to the next person on your list.

Related: Q&A: should you include references on a CV? (With example)

4. Share an update

After obtaining your references' approvals and sharing their details with the hiring manager, it's important that you remain in contact with them. For example, you can share an update to let them know when they may expect to hear from the recruiter. Here's an example email that you can use as an outline:

Subject: Reference request (update)

Dear [Reference's name],

Thank you again for agreeing to be my reference. I'd like to inform you that I've completed all stages of the interview process for the job we discussed and a hiring manager from [Company name] may be contacting you soon. I'm attaching the job description to this email, which you can review to see the qualities they're looking for in a candidate. You're welcome to contact me if there's any additional information you'd like me to provide.

Thank you,
[Your name]

5. Follow up

It's a standard process to send your references a quick follow-up when the recruitment process ends. In the follow-up, inform them about the result of the recruitment and if you've accepted the job offer. It's also appropriate to thank them one last time for their help. Showing gratitude helps you maintain a good professional relationship with the reference, as you never know when your paths might cross again.

Related: How to get a great professional reference in 5 steps

Tips for getting a professional reference

Learning to ask someone to be your reference is a skill that you're likely to use at least a few times throughout your career. Here are some additional tips:

  • Get several references: Many workplaces may only require one reference, but some recruiters may ask for at least three. By getting several references, you can help the recruiter learn more about various aspects of your personality and achievements.

  • Send references your CV: To help them understand your background, you can share your CV with your references. When they have access to your CV, it may be easier for them to recall details about the past and what abilities you demonstrated when they interacted with you.

  • See this as a networking opportunity: Asking someone to be your reference can be a great opportunity to reconnect with your former community leader or lecturer. Seeing this as a networking opportunity allows you to build stronger professional relationships with those who've interacted with you in the past.

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