In some job applications you may either be expressly asked to provide references or reference letters or have the option to add ‘other documents’ in support of your application. So, how to prepare for such requests?
It is very important to ask one or a few of your colleagues if they are open to write you a reference letter or to be contacted as references for any application you may submit. The best would be to have your direct supervisor or line manager to do so, as they could share more information than one of your peers about your performance. The request to write a letter or be your reference can be made informally or in an email, but it is definitely worth asking before the completion of your contract. Even if you leave for another job, asking for a reference letter or references is always important, as they may be requested during another application process in a few years.
A reference letter depends on the person who writes it. Be aware that some people may ask you to draft it yourself and they will then sign it. In this case, it is important for you to have in mind what were your main tasks; your personality treats and the way you interacted in the team; and your main achievements. Keep in mind that being asked to draft your own reference letter is not a ‘punishment’ nor a signal that the person does not want to write it. Most times, it is a way to understand from you what you believe was most important about your job in that position and what you want to be mentioned.
A reference contact is a bit different. First of all, it means that you are to provide name, surname, function, email address and/or phone number of a former colleague or manager to your potential future employer. Those are personal data and although in some countries you cannot submit an application without providing such data, it is better to have the express consent from the person you would like to have as a reference. Also, it is important that your reference contacts are informed that they may be contacted, when and for what job, so they can prepare and remember who you are and what you did, especially if a long time has passed since then.
Do keep in mind that the reference, if contacted, will be asked questions about your work and your personality. Therefore, this person should be someone who is ready to take the time to respond and will answer positively. It is also important to keep in mind that providing a reference of someone with whom you have worked many years ago may not be the best idea. This is because you will have certainly matured and changed as a professional, and what these people may say about you may not be up to date or true any longer.
If you apply for a job where references or references letters are not expressly required, but you have the possibility to upload ‘other documents to support your application, you can consider adding a reference letter.
It is never easy to ask for a reference or a reference letter, but remember, if you do not ask for it, you will never get one.