Referees are individuals who can vouch for a job candidate’s skills and experience, as well as provide more detailed information on their work history and accomplishments.

Usually, the prospective employer’s human resources staff would use the reference to address some questions and help verify points from the submitted resume, said Dr David Leong, managing director of human resource advisory firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting.

But how should you select the right referees to support your job application?

“A good referee should be able to provide the would-be employer with a detailed and accurate assessment of the candidate’s skills, experience, work ethic and character,” said Dr Leong.

“If the referees are immediate superiors, they should be able to provide specific examples of the candidate’s work performance, such as their ability to meet deadlines, handle stress, work independently or as part of a team, and solve problems.”

For jobs that require specific technical skills, the job seeker should take care to nominate a referee who can attest that the candidate holds the required skills, Dr Leong added.

But most importantly, he said, a good referee who has supervised the candidate or worked closely with them should be able to speak of their leadership potential, such as the ability to motivate others, take the initiative, and lead by example. To select referees best placed to comment, Dr Leong suggested that candidates consider the professional relationship they have with the referee, the relevance of the referee’s experience, and the referee’s reputation.

They should also try to select referees who have diverse backgrounds, he said.

“Referees should be individuals who have worked closely with the job seeker in a professional capacity and can speak to their work experience and performance. This could include former managers, colleagues or clients.”

Dr Leong added: “Job seekers should aim to include referees from a range of backgrounds and perspectives, including gender, ethnicity and age to demonstrate their ability to work with a diverse range of people.”

The most influential referee is not necessarily the best referee, as such a referee may not have directly supervised you or been involved in your work, said Ms Loh Kaili, principal consultant for consumer and corporate services at recruitment firm RGF Singapore.

She said it is best to provide three referees: two who managed your work directly, and one who is a peer.

“A peer referee is useful when a would-be employer wants to know how well you can work in a team,” she added.

To minimise the risk of an unfavourable reference, job seekers should obtain the referee’s consent, said Dr Leong.

They should then inform their referees of the job they are applying for and provide a copy of their resume and cover letter.

“This can help to ensure that the referee has accurate and up-to-date information about the job seeker’s skills and experience,” Dr Leong said.

Job seekers should also provide their referees with context about their work history and achievements, and explain how these relate to the job for which they are applying.

Both Dr Leong and Ms Loh also underscored the importance of maintaining a positive working relationship with prospective referees, keeping in touch even after moving on and expressing gratitude for their support.

Ms Loh also advised job seekers to give the referee at least three to five days’ notice so that they can plan ahead of time when they can complete any forms or speak to the potential new employers.

She added: “When a candidate is at the final stages of their interview, it is a good time to alert their potential referees that they might be contacted for reference checks.”

Text: Tay Hong Yi/The Straits Times