Being a Job Reference

Being someone's job reference is an important responsibility. It's a good feeling to know you're helping someone, particularly a good worker, friend or former colleague, but you will also need to know a few issues regarding references.

The reference process

When giving a reference, you provide information about the person concerned to a potential employer. This information is provided in good faith, and received on that basis. Appointment of the person may be based at least partly on your recommendation. This is where possible difficulties arise. Once employed, if the person is found to have falsified information in order to obtain the job, or committed some fraud, your information would be considered false, perhaps deliberately false.

One of the reasons for requiring references is for the employer to obtain as much information as possible about job candidates. Job references aren't given under oath, but the fact is that some people give false references. Criminals have been known to get jobs specifically for the purpose of gaining internal access to business premises, databases, or to commit fraud or robbery. As you can see, the "references", in these cases, are actual parties to the offenses.  

In some cases, good references are obtained from honest referees for these purposes, too. Anyone who's ever committed a white collar crime has had references, probably excellent ones. If you innocently give a reference to someone under these circumstances, it may take a while to explain your position. You can see why your reference would be a significant issue.

Deciding whether to give a reference

You have little way of knowing much about some people who may ask you for references, beyond workplace experience. That's not really good enough. You should only give references to people you feel are deserving of a good reference. Remember you're under no obligation to provide references to anyone.

Do not give references to people in cases where you don't know them well enough to make a considered personal judgment. Make it clear, when you don't want to give a reference, that you don't feel qualified to give a sufficiently supportive reference. Suggest someone else more appropriate as a reference. You will need to be very selective, when giving your references. These are a few pointers to suitable people:

  • You know and respect the person as an individual and as a co-worker.
  • The person is reliable, and known to be conscientious.
  • You have no reservations about the person's character or associations.
  • You have had the opportunity to properly assess their abilities, so your reference is going to be a good, accurate view of the person's work values.
  • The request for a reference is logical, based on an extended prior working association with you.

These are all reasonable professional criteria, the equivalent of a letter of recommendation. Therefore you need to be sure of your facts. You're going to be giving the sort of reference you would consider sufficient for the person to get a job, based on your knowledge.