• Dr Michael Watson

WHO SHOULD YOU HAVE AS YOUR REFEREE?

Updated: Sep 26, 2019


Reflecting on my many years in executive search and selection and advising candidates, one of the areas that is often raised is the question of references. On occasion, who to put as a referee when applying for a job can be less than straightforward. In an ideal world, one would clearly pick their most recent line manager to give a glowing review, but this isn't always possible. This is explored further below.


Who should a teacher have as their referees?

Your first referee should be your direct line manager. Your second referee should be an individual who knows you in a professional capacity, and ideally was or is more senior to you.


Who should you have as your referee if you're a senior or middle leader?

The head would normally list the chair of governors and the director of Children’s Services or the school improvement partner in the LA. If it is an academy within a trust, then the principal would normally list the chair and the chief executive as referees.


The deputy head would normally include the head and the chair. The head of department would list their line manager (who may or may not be a deputy) and the head. Essentially, always someone who knows you in a professional capacity and who can comment on your performance, unless the request from the prospective employer is happy for you to include a personal reference (referee).


Are there any common errors applicants make when it comes to referees?

Avoid including referees who are not at your current school unless you absolutely have to. These are often telltale signs of a wider issue, although it’s understandable if you have been out of employment for a long while, eg, owing to an illness. Always ensure that you have notified the referee that you have included them on a job application; this will avoid any embarrassing situations.


On the rare occasion, we receive references (more of a testimonial) at the same time as the application form. It’s usually clear when it’s an agreed reference, but even if it is not, it’s not best practice to do it this way because it raises more questions than it answers. Get yourself to the next stage of the process and include references when asked to do so. Keep the assessors focused on your skills and experience and diminish any distractions as much as possible.


Should you say “referees on request” or is it important to put a referee’s details in?

Avoid using references on request, as this is stating the obvious. In my experience, it is better to leave them off altogether as the prospective employer will understand that they can get this from you at the appropriate time. In the case of applying for jobs where children are involved, referees' details should be included to adhere to safeguarding procedures and good practice. If for any reason references are not supplied before an offer (whatever the circumstance) then the offer should be subject to the employer receiving satisfactory references.


What should you do if your former school won’t give you a reference?

It is true that some employers will not give references. It’s not uncommon these days for employers to only provide basic information. You should at least get the organisation to confirm your role and the dates you worked for them. This is one instance where you should consider using a personal referee who can comment positively about your character.


What are the definite don'ts when it comes to referees?

Don’t use a relative or spouse. It’s obvious they will say something positive about you.


Avoid asking individuals who don’t know you well enough, as this will come through on the reference and leave the prospective employer questioning your judgment.


Do not go back more than 3-5 years if you can help it, to use a referee who can speak about your experience.


Do not be flexible with the truth by inventing jobs which presents the opportunity to use close friends or relatives. Be honest, it really is the best policy. References are part of a contract formed with the employer which they accept in 'good faith' as a representation of your ability and experience to fulfil the requirements of the job in question.

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