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12 Types of Employment Reference

Employment references are letters or documents that provide an opinion on a job candidate. Prospective employers commonly request these from former employers and may ask the candidate to provide additional references. Employment references are subject to a number of common practices and norms. The following are common types of employment references.

Standard Reference

Employers in the United States and other countries are often concerned about potential liability for references. As such, many firms have a policy of providing minimal standardized references. These often state the job title and dates of employment. They may also indirectly indicate whether the employee left on positive terms or was fired for cause. For example, wordage that indicates performance was satisfactory.

Full Disclosure

Some employers solve the problem of liability by spitting out everything they know about the employee in a standard and consistent way. For example, providing a history of their roles with the company and their performance in each role.

Employer Positive

Small businesses and brave businesses may provide glowing and positive references for employees with reasonable performance. Executives may also bend the rules for a high performer even where there is a strict policy of providing standard references. Positive references have great value to a former employee and potentially increase an employer's reputation where these are provided in a candid fashion.

Employer Negative

Where an employee had low performance an employer may indicate this in a short note. There isn't typically much to say other then performance was unsatisfactory. In the worst case, employers will do this out of some sort of unfair grudge or bias against the employee. For example, an employer who is upset an employee left at an inconvenient time. This may expose the employer to liability.

Employer Coded

In many countries, such as Germany, former employees have a legal right to a timely reference that must be detailed and positive unless an employer has sufficient cause to do otherwise. In Germany, employers have been sued for seemingly minor issues such as providing a reference on low quality paper or taking a few days to respond to reference requests. In this environment, employers are obliged to provide a long positive reference if requested but may use ostensibly positive code words such as "satisfactory" to indicate the employee is unsatisfactory.


It is common to ask for a reference from your manager or any manager at a former employer. This may be done as you are leaving and secured for future use. In many cases, a management reference is more detailed and positive than the reference provided by the employer itself. Some firms have a policy of only providing a standard reference such that managers aren't allowed to give references. It is very common for these rules to be bent where you have high performance.


A reference from a former colleague. For example, a project manager who has worked with you on a series of projects. This may carry significant weight where the colleague can provide some specific examples of your accomplishments.


A reference from an academic advisor who may have an impressive job title and have an opinion of your academic performance, talents and character.


A reference from a teacher or professor. This typically applies where you don't have much work experience as commercial references are typically more valuable unless a position is academic in nature.

Character Reference

A character reference is a reference from someone with no information about your work or academic performance such that they can only speak to your character traits. This can be anyone but preferably not someone you are related to in any way such as an in-law. It helps if a character reference has some type of social status such as a prestigious profession or job title. If your neighbor is the head of NASA or something, a glowing character reference could be more valuable than an employment reference.

Confirmation Reference

In many cases, a prospective employer doesn't use your references to make the hiring decision but simply views a reference as a confirmation that your employment history isn't completely fictional.

Blind Reference

A blind reference is a reference that occurs without the candidate's knowledge. This may be subject to privacy laws. In the case of a blind reference, a decision maker seeks information on a candidate that is used in the hiring decision. For example, a hiring manager who knows someone at your former employer who seeks a candid view of your performance and character.
Overview: Employment References
Letters or documents that provide an opinion on a job candidate.
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