A successful job search often depends on how well you are able to position yourself as the strongest candidate available. There are a few things you can arm yourself with upon entering the job market once you've completed your degree: a well-written CV and cover letter that speaks of your qualifications and capabilities, and good references from any work experience placements.

References work in favour of both the prospective job seeker and employer. They allow the candidate to provide a stronger application and create a favourable impression, while convincing employers that they have hired the most suitable candidate who has the aptitude and attitude to contribute constructively to their organisations.

The larger role of professional references

During the latter part of the job application process, usually once you've been interviewed, the hiring manager will request a list of referees. Professional references serve as noticeable proof of your positive on-the-job capabilities that you have mentioned in your CV and cover letter.

Reference checks have become more than a just a formality in the recruitment process. Hiring managers often rely on references as key deciding influencers when deciding on the most able candidate for their organisations.

References provide hiring managers with information such as:

  • Work ethic
  • Past job duties and experience
  • Weaknesses and strengths (negative and positive job performance)
  • Workplace accomplishments
  • Confirmation of information provided on your CV (job titles, dates of employment and salaries received)
  • Reasons for leaving employment
  • Disciplinary action

Where to look for references

For many recently-qualified graduates, lack of work experience may make colleting references a challenging business. Finding part time work over the holidays, voluntary work and internships are useful in providing references of your work ethic and competencies.

It is critically important that your references are formed of people who can provide a positive impression of you. Can they confirm your suitability for the position you are applying for?

Referees maybe asked about your work performance, attitude as well as aptitude, leadership qualities, interpersonal and communication skills, your conflict resolution style and decision-making skills.

It is preferable that who you choose as your referee should know you well and are familiar with your work. Ideally they should have worked with you for a minimum of three months. These referees should also be willing to provide positive comments about your character.

References from anyone in a professional capacity who knows you well and who can confirm your character, accomplishments, work ethic and skills make for suitable referees. They can comprise of:

What to remember when putting your reference list together

Before putting down a name on your reference list, ensure that you have asked for permission include them as a referee and make sure that you have their recent contact information (telephone numbers, email addresses)

It is advisable to let your referees know that they can expect a call and let them know the type of position you have applied for. This will prepare them for when being questioned and ensure they won't be scratching their heads for something to say when asked about you. A heads-up is a helpful reminder to supervisors and managers of who you are, the role you played and your skills set.

Ideally hiring managers look for at least three referees. Do not forget to include the relationship between you and your referee.

For job candidates providing positive references can prove to be invaluable in the job search market. Recommendations from professional contacts help distinguish your application from a whole host of others. Good references can make your application a success, the lack thereof may break it.

Zulfah Abrahams writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs, including digital jobs.

Image credit: Nathan Shively