The prime purpose of a reference is to verify details of a candidate's education and/or employment experience. An appropriately worded reference request can elicit useful additional information about a candidate's suitability for a post.
References should be used to support the recruitment process rather than play a significant part in reaching the appointment decision. They are most useful in obtaining information or checking information on such factual issues as dates of previous employment, attendance records etc. Ideally the referee should be a line manager with direct experience of the applicant's recent work.
Referees can be subjective and references should be regarded with caution as a means of evaluation for the following reasons:
- Applicants will choose referees who can be relied upon to give favourable comment
- Sometimes the manager most able to comment on the individual's work has left so someone with little or no experience of the applicant provides the reference
- Some organisations have a policy of not giving references or will only provide factual confirmation of an individual's service record which cannot compare with more detailed references for other candidates
- A 'halo' effect provided by the glowing report on one aspect of an individual's performance may be misleading.
Oral or written offers of employment should be subject to the receipt of satisfactory references if they have not been received by the time the offer is to be made.
Data Protection Act
Under the Data Protection Act 1998 references given by staff of the University are exempted from subject access requests where the references relate to appointments. This means that the writer of the reference is exempt from the data access provisions.
Confidential references received by the University are not exempt from the right of access. This applies also to references received from other Departments / Directorates within the University. However, consideration must be given to the data privacy rights of the referee. Information contained in, or about, a confidential reference need not be provided if the release would identify an individual referee unless:
- The identity of the referee can be protected by anonymising the information
- The referee has given his/her consent.