For Your Reference

May 27, 2022

What is a reference? Why do I need one? How do I get one? What did they say about me? Read on for all you need to know about this crucial point in the application process. 

Securing your dream job is a marathon that becomes a dash in the final stages. Your CV has made it through the initial screening process and you have impressed in the interview. Now you are in the home stretch, the offer gleaming at the finish line. There is one more effort needed to secure victory. This is the reference check, the vital last stage of the selection process.

For something so important to your success, a reference check is, at this late stage, largely out of your hands. Here we look at why a reference check is important, how they are used, and what you can do to ensure that your reference is a winner.

Why do I need a reference?

A reference is a statement from a previous employer that validates your claim that you are a good fit for a position. It needs to be objective, and it needs to come from a person in a position of some authority from the organisation that you currently work for, or for whom you have worked in the recent past.

In China, there is perhaps more at stake than in your home country for an employer as, in terms of your work visa, they will take full responsibility for you from the time you sign a contract with them. Along with a criminal background check, a good reference gives an employer confidence in your professional competency, knowledge of safeguarding, your integrity, and your character.

What does a reference check look like?

A letter or email reference often fails to provide the specific information about your candidacy that a new employer needs. For this reason, a reference check will typically take the form of a questionnaire sent to the person that you have listed on your application.

The questionnaire will verify details such as the length of employment, the relationship between the applicant and the person providing the reference, and may also ask questions such as “How would you rate the candidate’s subject knowledge?” and “What area(s) would you like to see the candidate improve in or develop?”

In some cases, a follow-up phone call may be made to the person to clarify a response that has been given. Note also that it is essential to provide a formal work email address for your reference.

How do I prepare a reference?

The short answer is: Ask the person first and then keep them informed as you advance through the application process. If you pass an interview, let the person you have listed as a reference know that they may be contacted any day.

The long answer is: Think about how you present, the impact you are making, and the relationships that you are building from the moment you start working for a new organisation. What people say about you when you are leaving ought to be the capstone of your time working with them. 

It is common to feel sheepish about asking someone in your current organisation to be a reference for you. However, unless you are breaking a contract, or haven’t given notice, you ought not to feel bad about it. While it is definitely a signal that you are exploring further fields, this should not be an obstacle to getting a good reference from people whose respect and good faith you have earnt over time.

What will happen to my reference?

A reference will be stored on a database along with your application details. It is confidential, so you won’t know what the person has said about you. However, if you have received an offer, they probably said nice things.

In that case, send them a thank you message. That is what nice people do.