What are references? Who should I ask to be a reference?

References are people who can talk about your work experience, work habits, character and skills. You should choose your references carefully.

As part of the job search process, you may be asked to provide the names of people whom a potential employer can contact to find out more about you. It is a good idea to choose people who can speak or write favourably about you and your work. This will improve your chances of getting the job.

Providing appropriate local references can be a challenge for newcomers. If you don’t have work experience in Canada, you may have difficulty providing this type of reference. Similarly, if your recent work is unrelated to the type of job you are looking for, your references may not be able to speak to the skills needed for the position.

Who would be a good reference?

Work References

Many employers prefer work references. If your work references are all from another country, you might include at least one on your list as long as they speak English fluently, are accessible through email or Skype, and have some understanding of the position you are applying for.

If possible, you should choose someone who has supervised you professionally or who has worked closely with you.  A manager, supervisor or even a co-worker from a casual job may be able to speak to your work habits or transferable skills (the skills that you can take from one job to another). They can say, for example, that you are reliable, friendly, organized, and a good problem solver. Other references could include someone who is aware of your work habits or skills through your volunteer or community work.

Academic References

Academic references are also acceptable and may even be preferable, depending on the situation. If you have been to school recently in Canada, consider asking your teacher to be a reference for you, particularly if you think they can speak positively about your skills and character.

Character References

Character references can substitute for work references if there are no other alternatives. They can be friends, a landlord, clients or anyone who can speak to your good personal qualities such as your honesty, dependability, good nature, etc. If they have firsthand knowledge of your work skills, that is even more useful. Relatives are not acceptable references and neither are people who do not know you well.

You may not want to include references from areas of your life you prefer to keep private or that may conflict with your interviewer's values. For example, personal counsellors, therapists, religious leaders or leaders of political or military parties in your home country may not be appropriate references.

How can I develop new references?

If you still do not have enough references, you may want to consider taking a course in your field of interest.  If you participate in class and make a good impression, the teacher or other program staff may be willing to act as a reference for you. Volunteering is also a good way to develop references. However, some organizations do not provide references for volunteers, so it is a good idea to check what the policy is.

Once you have good references, you should try to keep in touch with them frequently.  Let them know how your job search is going and thank them for their efforts. 

Preparing your references

You should ask someone if they will be a reference for you before you give their name to a potential employer. If they agree, let them know what job you are applying for, how you are qualified, and give them a copy of your résumé. For academic references, it can be useful to remind teachers about your projects or grades.

When should I provide a reference?

Most people write on their résumé “References Available Upon Request” and don’t include names. If you have been asked to bring references to an interview, take them on a separate sheet of paper and indicate if they are work, character, or academic references. If references are required after the interview, let them know that you will email this list to them. Emailing allows you time to choose your references based on the information you now have about the position.

Contributed by Geneviève Beaupré and Susan Qadeer. They have over 10 years experience working in university and college settings, providing career, academic, and personal counselling to students.

For More Information

  • Employment References - This webpage provides basic information about providing good references to employers.  From the Government of Canada Services for Youth.
  • Where and how to get work references in Canada - This article provides advice on who to use as a reference and how the reference process works.  From Canadian Immigrant Magazine.
  • Reference Letters – This resource provides detailed information about reference letters.  From the University of Alberta.
Last updated: December 28, 2016 4001648