What is a reference and how can I make sure I get the best one?
When you’re applying for jobs or further study, you may well be asked to provide the names and contacts of details of people that know you who would be prepared to write a ‘reference’ for you.
How can I choose a referee?
It is a really good idea to spend some time thinking about who you want to be your referee, before you are likely to need them.
You may need up to 3 referees, and it is helpful if these people come from different parts of your experience so that they can comment on different aspects of you.
In particular, you can expect your personal tutor at King’s to act as a reference for you, as they have access to your student record.
Other possible referees could be:
- Programme or module leaders
- Employers both inside or outside King’s
- Senior academics within your department or faculty
Important to know: It is important that you build a good relationship with anyone who you are likely to choose as your referee, and keep them updated about your progress and achievement in and out of King’s – so they have plenty of information to include when the time comes for them to do a reference for you.
It is not a good idea to ask a friend or family member to act as a referee, and indeed most employers specifically rule out these individuals.
How can I approach and manage my relationship with a referee?
- Ask permission: It is standard etiquette that you should ask your referees’ permission before putting their names down for employers to contact. Generally, you should do this each time you are applying for a position.
- However, this may not always be possible if you are applying for a lot at one time, or for several graduate courses. In such a case, you may want let your referee know your plans.
- Keep in touch: Keep in touch regularly with everyone you think you might ask to provide a reference. This is standard professional behaviour and is so that they know more about you, and can write a reference based on greater personal insight.
- Allow plenty of time: While a referee will aim to respond to a reference request as quickly as possible, you must have a reasonable expectation of your referees’ availability; you will get a more considered reference if you have allowed sufficient time for it to be produced.
- Share information: Make sure you have provided your referees with information about the jobs you are applying for, to help them tailor the reference sensibly.
- Use your HEAR: Provide your HEAR to your referee, as it will contain other information that may be useful for the reference.
What can I expect from my referee?
- Factual information: You can expect your referee to stick to the facts and ensure that all their comments can be supported by hard evidence such as exam results.
- Confidentiality: You should expect your referees to store references in a confidential place and for as long as is appropriate: see university policies for more.
- Sensitivity: While referees have a duty to provide only positive feedback, please discuss with them if there are instances (e.g. poor progress, duty of candour, or criminal convictions) you need them to handle professionally and carefully.
What types of references are there?
There are many different types of reference and it helps to be aware of them so you can best prepare the person you ask to complete it.
‘Pro-forma’ or form
The length of the pro-forma and the amount of detail it seeks varies enormously from one employer to another.
It might be a detailed questionnaire asking for comments on your academic ability, positions of responsibility and participation in community life, or a one-page questionnaire inviting referees to respond to a scale of above average, average and below average in areas such as academic performance and social orientation.
Pro-forma detachable from the application form
Some employers have application forms where the reference request is a detachable pro-forma at the end. This method is more common in applications for postgraduate courses.
You would complete your part and then pass it on to their academic referee.
The confidential part of the form may ask for the your predicted degree result and comments on a series of factors such as breadth of interest in professional matters and career potential.
Given that you know what is included in this reference, we recommending talking to your referee about it before expecting them to complete it for you.
Letters vary in the complexity of the information they request. Some are fairly specific and might enclose a job description or person specification asking that the referee comments on how closely you match those requirements.
Other letters can be more open-ended. You may find that your referee would like you to contact the employer to ask for more details, to help them write the required letter.
Telephone conversations or email requests
Sometimes employers phone or email your referees to ask questions about you.
They will likely to be following a set sequence of questions. Your referee will probably ask the employer for a written record of a phone call, so they have something for their records.
Important to know: Your referee will aim to stick as closely as possible to providing facts about you rather than opinion, as there should be evidence from your time at King’s to back up what they say.
Although not common practice in the UK, you may request an open letter of reference for general use, particularly if you are an overseas student planning on returning to your home country.
The content of the letter is entirely for the referee to decide, but may cover points such as:
- How long they have known you
- The start and finish dates of your course
- Something about your general attitude
- Commitment and motivation to your studies
- Whether you participated in any co-curricular activities (to your knowledge)
- What skills you have gained from your course
Can I ask my personal tutor to write a reference for me?
Your personal tutor can write a reference for you if they have access to the relevant information and you give them enough notice.
Good reference protocol:
- Meet with your personal tutor regularly and build a professional relationship with them.
- Ask your personal tutor if they are willing to be an academic reference on your CV.
- Let your personal tutor know when you are applying for a job/award/course as soon as possible, to check that they can still provide a reference within the necessary timescale.
- Important to know: Asking for a reference with less than 2 weeks’ notice may mean that your tutor cannot provide one for you in time, so plan ahead and give as much notice as possible to your tutor.
- Remember to send information such as your CV, job description or any other application criteria along with your reference request.
How can I share details of my academic achievements with an employer, an institution, agency or another third party?
If you’re still studying and applying for a part-time job, internship, or perhaps for further study, you can:
- Share the results you’ve achieved so far through your Record of Agreed Results, available through your Gradintel account.
- Your Record of Agreed Results letter will update at the end of each year of study after your results are ratified.
- Provide a reference using the guidance in this article. Your personal tutor can be a great referee to use while you’re at university.
Important to know: Student Services are unable to provide personal references or comment on your academic standing; only factual information can be provided based on what is on your record, such as module results and award.
If you’ve completed your studies recently, such as within this academic year, you can:
- Share your results and degree award, along with detailed information about your degree, as well as extra-curricular achievements, academic prizes or awards by sharing your HEAR through Gradintel.
- Share your final transcript, which is also available on Gradintel.
- Provide a reference using the guidance in this article. Your personal tutor can still be a great referee when you’ve just graduated.
Important to know: Student Services are unable to provide personal references or comment on your academic standing; only factual information can be provided based on what is on your record, such as module results and award. We strongly recommend your HEAR as the best way to show this kind of information; it’s free, fast and accessible by you on your Gradintel account.
Graduated a while ago?
If you left King’s a year ago or more, you can:
- Share your results and degree award, detailed information about your degree, as well as extra-curricular achievements, academic prizes or awards by sharing your HEAR through Gradintel.
- For details in accessing your HEAR if you’re not sure how, or haven’t accessed it before, refer to: Accessing my Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) on Gradintel
- Provide a reference; the guidance in this article will help you in choosing and approaching a suitable referee.
- Your personal tutor from your time as a student may be able to help, if you’ve maintained contact with them
Important to know:
- If you graduated some time ago, it’s possible your personal tutor, or other academic staff may no longer work at King’s.
- Or, if you haven’t maintained contact with a tutor, they may not know or remember you well, and only be able to provide a reference from information on your record.
- Student Services are unable to provide personal references or comment on your academic standing; only factual information can be provided based on what is on your record, such as module results and award.
- We strongly recommend your HEAR as the best way to show this kind of information; it’s free, fast and accessible by you on your Gradintel account.
If you need further guidance on how to find a suitable referee for your needs, please get in touch with King's Careers & Employability.