6 Will you be my referee?

As industrial experience and employability tutor, I get asked to write lots of references for students applying for jobs and further study, see figure 6.1. I’m happy to do this if you’ve been my personal tutee or I’ve worked with you closely outside of ordinary teaching. However, it’s impossible for me to say YES to every request for a reference. For students I haven’t worked with, it is difficult to do, because all I can confirm is facts (attendance, academic marks, degree program) without opinions which doesn’t make for a very compelling reference.

Come on ref! ⚽️ I’m not that kind of referee, but I can provide facts and opinions about you to employers subject to conditions outlined on this page. Whoever your referee is, make sure you ask their permission beforehand, otherwise you may receive an unexpected (virtual) penalty card from your referee. CC BY image of a referee by Jason Gulledge on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3dqE adapted using the Wikipedia app

Figure 6.1: Come on ref! ⚽️ I’m not that kind of referee, but I can provide facts and opinions about you to employers subject to conditions outlined on this page. Whoever your referee is, make sure you ask their permission beforehand, otherwise you may receive an unexpected (virtual) penalty card from your referee. CC BY image of a referee by Jason Gulledge on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3dqE adapted using the Wikipedia app

Whoever agrees to be your referee, make sure you read and understand the following:

6.1 Who can provide a reference for me?

The best person to provide a reference for you is somebody who knows you, such as your personal tutor. See the careers service guide what are references and how should I choose a referee? and guidance to staff providing references for students from the University of Manchester, which gives extra context.

It is good to have references from different sources, so if you are providing several referees try to pick people from inside and outside the University. Within the University, this is most likely to be your tutor:

  • Your personal tutor from year one
  • Your personal tutor from year two (if different to first year)
  • Your Industrial Experience (IE) tutor (sometimes that’s me)
  • Your third year project supervisor
  • Your Masters project supervisor
  • Anyone else who knows you personally

If you ask somebody who does not know you very well to write a reference for you, all that they are able to do in a reference is confirm rather dull facts such as your grades, your attendance, start date and graduation date. As I’ve already said, this does not make for a very useful reference.

6.2 Should I ask permission from my referee?

You should always ask the person providing your reference, see figure 6.1.

6.3 What is a reference for?

References have two main purposes:

  1. Providing and confirming facts
    1. to give a factual account, e.g. of academic record, attendance, etc
    2. to confirm the accuracy of statements made in an application
  2. Providing opinions
    1. to give the referee’s opinion as to the candidate’s suitability for the post/course in question, and his/her potential for the future

6.4 How can I help my referee?

It can make it much easier for your referee if you provide them with information you would like them to mention in your reference. This might include:

  • an updated CV
  • comments on your character
  • any relevant experience you have
  • any relevant projects you have completed
  • specific aspects of your academic performance
  • what the reference is for e.g. a job, Masters or PhD application

All of this information will help your referee to write a better reference for you.

6.5 Can I have a copy of my reference?

It is unusual for a referee to provide a reference directly to its subject (that’s you).

Typically, a referee is asked to provide a reference for a student (or former student) directly by the organisation concerned. For example, if you’re applying for postgraduate study, the reference request will be sent by the University directly to your referees email address, who will usually respond by clicking on a link to upload the reference document.

You can, once you’re employed, make a request to see your reference under data protection law.