How to avoid pitfalls when asking for a reference

Claire Ronald explains how to avoid pitfalls when providing or asking for a reference

It is important to realise that there is no legal obligation to provide a reference. However, any reference provided must be a true, accurate and fair reflection of the job applicant. If opinions are provided then they should be based on facts. As most job offers are conditional on references, never hand in your notice until the offer is firm and all stages are complete.

The following are some common questions asked in relation to references:  ‘I have not handed in my notice and do not want my current employer to know I am looking for a new job, can I refuse to put them as a reference?’ 

Check first as most times references are only requested after making a conditional job offer so your boss is not going to know straight away. If you really do not want to put your current employer down be prepared to explain on the form or answer a question about this at interview. ‘I have a disciplinary warning on my record, will my current employer have to mention this in any reference?’

A reference has to be true and so can include facts such as your sickness absence record and any disciplinary action taken against you.  Your previous employer may decide just to give a very bland reference that confirms when you worked for them and in what role, but if you are aware something negative might arise consider how you can address this at interview.  ‘I have had my job offer withdrawn due to a bad reference – what can I do?’

Request a copy of the reference from the new employer but be prepared as this can take some time to secure. The prospective employer has to show you if they have kept a copy, although you may have to make a ‘subject access request’ to access it.  

The reference has to be true and accurate. Check if the information is accurate and then, if appropriate, contact the person who wrote it and try to reach agreement on what they should put down in any future reference.

  • Claire Ronald is CSP senior negotiating officer

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