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The University of Southampton
Careers, Employability and Student Enterprise


Businessperson providing a reference

A referee is used to help confirm the information given in an application process. This way your potential employer can ensure you have provided an accurate reflection of yourself in your application.

Two referees is the norm, although some employers will ask for three. It is not usual in the UK to send prospective employers written references or testimonials yourself, the company will usually contact your referee and request a reference directly from them.

References from relatives or friends are not acceptable - they are considered to be biased!

Academic referee(s):

  • If you are still studying or have recently graduated, it is usual to give a University referee. This will normally be your personal tutor or academic supervisor.
  • If you have done a substantial amount of project work which is directly relevant to your application, you may decide to ask the person who supervised that work to act as your referee.
  • You may give two university referees but it is usually better to give one academic and one personal or work referee if possible.

Work referee(s):

  • If you have had any type of industrial placement or substantial work experience, it is usually helpful to have an employer as a referee.
  • Check with the company who the most appropriate person would be but this would likely be your line manager.
  • Employers are interested in any work experience you have, be it bar work, selling advertising space or working in a fast food restaurant so don't worry that your work experience isn't relevant.
  • Voluntary work is often valued by prospective employers. You may wish to ask your volunteer coordinator or immediate supervisor to be one of your referees.

Personal referee(s):

A personal referee is usually asked to provide a ‘character witness’ rather than specific information about your progress in education or work. Good personal referees would include:

  • A person of recognised standing in the community, e.g. a doctor, teacher, police officer, minister of religion, holder of office (e.g. member of governing body, Rotary Club or similar).
  • Someone who has known you reasonably well for at least five years.
  • Someone you have worked with in a community capacity, e.g. Youth Leader.

What if I can’t identify a referee?

If you cannot think of anybody who is suitable as a referee, make a list of all the people you know (except fellow students and family) and write down how you know them. You may find that this prompts you to think of someone suitable.

On a CV:

  • It is often appropriate to include the title, name, address and telephone number of referees at the end of your CV.
  • If you are short of space, or do not want the referees to be contacted without your knowledge, you may make a statement such as "references available on request".

On a Covering Letter:

  • You could use a phrase such as “I will be happy to provide details of referees if you are interested in pursuing my application”.

On an Application Form:

  • Use the space(s) provided and give all requested information.

You should always ask if your referees are happy to give you a reference as a courtesy. It is also useful to keep in touch with them for the following reasons:

  • If they are going to do a good job for you they will need to be up to date with what your plans are and to know what areas of expertise/character to emphasise.
  • You can let them know about the kind of position (whether academic or employment) you are seeking and why. You could perhaps give them a copy of your CV.
  • It is vital for you to be confident that your referee will be available at the time a reference is needed. If your tutor or project supervisor, for instance, is going to be on sabbatical leave for six months, you will need to make sure that you know who you can contact in the meantime.


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