how to ask for a reference

Have you recently decided to take the next step in your career and leave your job? If you're in the process of looking for a new job, sooner or later you'll be asked to provide a reference.

The purpose of a reference is to check that the claims on your CV are accurate, to get a better idea about your previous role, to understand what skills you have to offer, and to assess your attitude in the workplace.

References are a completely normal part of looking for a new job, but asking for one from your old employer can be intimidating - especially if you left your old job on "bad" terms. 

Here at HRS, we've helped hundreds of people to move from their old, dead-end job into a life-changing career that they can be proud of. For that reason, we have heaps of advice we can give you to help make your transition from one job to another as smooth as possible. So, how do you ask for a reference from your old employer?

Decide who you're going to ask

Your new employer might ask you for one reference, but more often than not they ask for 2 or 3. You need to consider who you'll ask for a reference carefully. The person you choose needs to be able to vouch for your qualifications, your skills, and your personality.

So, when choosing the people you'll request a reference from, make sure they:

  • Know you well/worked closely with you
  • Are likely to have nice things to say about you
  • Have the time to provide a well-rounded, honest reference

Choosing someone who didn't work with you directly, or choosing someone who doesn't have a lot of spare time to give a good reference, could hinder your job application/future employment.

Make your request politely

When you've made a list of potential referees, give them a call, drop them an email, or arrange a quick meeting. You might be in a position where you've been out of work for 6 months or a year. In that time, your previous employer might have forgotten some of the specific things you contributed to the company & will be grateful for a quick update on your situation alongside the request. 

One thing to note is that your previous employer is not obliged to provide you a reference if they don't want to, so make sure you ask in a polite and respectful manner.

Here's a good example of what to say:

"Hello, I've recently applied for a position at X company and I was wondering if you'd be willing to provide a reference?

I know that we worked together on X, Y, Z projects and achieved some really great results. 

I'd be very grateful for your time and look forward to hearing from you."

Have a back-up in mind

It's possible that the person you contact for a reference won't provide you with one. Bear in mind that a neutral, unenthusiastic reference will probably do you more harm than good, so if someone isn't particularly keen on giving you one, it's probably for the best.

If you want to progress through your job application quickly, it can be beneficial to have a few 'back-up' referees in mind. These could be, colleagues, university lecturers, or team leaders.

Alternatively, when you leave your company, ask them for a formal letter of recommendation that you can keep on file and use throughout your job search going forward. This is a great way to avoid having to pester your previous employer for a reference months after you leave your job.

Remember to say thank you

When someone takes time out of their day to give you a reference, it's important that you go back and thank them. Whether this is a quick email, a 5-minute phone call, or an invitation to lunch, whichever way you choose to do it, let them know you're thankful. 

Remember that your referee is probably rooting for you to get the new job too, so give them an update on the outcome when you find out if you got the job! 

So, there you have it, our tips to make asking for a reference as easy as possible! If you're currently looking for a job in science, we have a lot of great vacancies.

Browse Science Jobs >

 Read More:

CV Tips and Advice

- How to provide a reference for a former employee

Female scientist holding a test tube

If film and TV have taught us anything about scientists, it's that they all wear white lab coats, they're seldom seen without a test tube in hand, and they work exclusively within the confines of a lab.

However, while the stereotypical image of the zany scientist with wild hair, thick glasses and quirky foibles may be entertaining, the truth is far less eccentric and far more diverse.

Nevertheless, misconceptions such as these are commonplace not just in the media we consume but also in society as a whole. In fact, there are loads of myths about science that have almost become accepted as fact by the general public - and this affects the way people think about science jobs.

When it comes to common misconceptions about science jobs, there are a few that are particularly prevalent both inside and outside the industry. Here are some of the worst offenders that rear their ugly heads time after time.


You need a degree to pursue a career in science

This one is a biggie, and a common belief among jobseekers nationwide.

Admittedly, there is some truth to this. For example, you'll never become a medical doctor without years of formal training and that all-important piece of paper.

However, there are definitely avenues into science that don't require years spent in lecture halls racking up hefty university fees.

There are a variety of science jobs that can be entered into via company trainee initiatives and entry-level apprenticeship schemes.

Meanwhile, school-leaver programmes also offer young people a realistic route into scientific employment without a university degree.


Most science jobs will soon become automated

With technology evolving more and more with each passing year, it's natural that many jobs will fall by the wayside as a result of technological advancement making certain manual tasks obsolete.

In 2019, the BBC even ran article claiming that up to 20 million manufacturing jobs around the world would be replaced by robots by 2030 based on analysis by Oxford Economics.

However, while that undoubtedly makes for a spectacular headline, this isn't so much a bold prediction as it is a logical statement, no different to how factory workers were given their marching orders in favour of automated machinery back in the 60s.

However, most STEM jobs are relatively safe from automation. In fact, due to a skills shortage within STEM fields, there is actually a growing demand for skilled scientific workers. Roles such as data scientist are particularly safe from automation.

READ MORE: Jobs Least Likely to Be Automated

In fact, EDF Energy's 'Jobs of the Future' study found that jobs in science, research, engineering and technology will rise at double the rate of other occupations over the coming years.

The same report also went on to claim that science-focused industries are projected to account for 28% of job openings in the UK, equating to just over 2.8 million jobs in total.

Meanwhile, demand for traditional science, research, engineering and technology jobs will remain high, driven by the government's commitment to ongoing investment in infrastructure.


Science jobs are for men only

The notion that science is a boys-only club has existed for quite some time and, while that mentality may seem archaic, there is evidence to back it up.

For example, in 2017, just under 10% of successful candidates in A-level computer science were girls. The knock-on effect of this also resulted in girls representing less than 14% of all computer science students in UK.

However, while the female population may be under-represented in certain areas of science (notably computer science), physical science-related degrees have seen a year-on-year increase in the number of female graduates.

HESA data shows that the number of students studying science-related courses at university in the 2017/2018 academic year was virtually an equal split between genders, with a 49% contingent of females to the 51% of males.

Better still, the 2019 A-level results showed that girls actually outnumbered the boys for the first time ever in terms of participation, with 50.3% to 49.7% for biology, chemistry and physics.

With results and data clearly showing a reasonably even split between the two sexes, the idea that women aren't interested in science jobs is one that can be well and truly put to rest.


Creativity has no place in science

Science often gets a bad rap for being a boring industry, full of laborious theory and dull characters; however, in reality, this couldn't be further from the truth. Innovation is the core principle of most science jobs, with the pursuit of revolutionary advancement and ground-breaking discovery two recurring themes.

Without creative minds who think outside the box and colour outside the lines, scientific innovation would not be possible. From creating and implementing experimental treatments to developing new technologies and breaking new ground, creativity is at the heart of all scientific innovation.

In fact, the constantly-evolving landscape of science has led to the creation of many brand new jobs that simply didn't exist until recently. Best of all, with science showing no signs of slowing down, this is a trend that is only going to continue, making for some exciting times to come!

Browse Science Jobs >

Photo from Pixabay

life science careers

Life science is an amazing field to work in if you're interested in living organisms and their interactions with the world around them. Many people choose a career in life sciences because they have a natural curiosity about the world.

What sets life science apart from other 'living' sciences like biology, is that it addresses much broader issues including ecosystems, medicine, physics and even life in space. This makes life science careers particularly appealing for budding scientists with a great understanding of lots of different subjects.

Read More: Are Life Sciences and Biology the Same Thing?


What kind of life science careers are out there?

Life science careers are incredibly varied! Here are a couple of careers that you could consider if you're interested in life science as a full-time job. This should give you a good idea of the variety of careers in life science.



If you're interested in microscopic organisms, this is the life science career for you. You will use your research to make changes in industries like agriculture, medicine and food production.

Read More: What does a microbiologist do?


Research Assistant

For people who love discovering new things and providing a helping hand where necessary, working as a research assistant is a great career. Research assistants aren't directly responsible for the outcome of the research, but they do help the principal researcher to do the best job possible.

Read More: What's it really like to work as a research scientist?


Industrial Pharmacist

If you're interested in medicines and the development of new drugs then this is the life science career for you. Industrial pharmacists are involved with the clinical trials, quality assurance, and the marketing of new drugs (amongst other things). This life science career will have you saving lives and curing new diseases!

Read More: 5 reasons you should consider a pharmaceutical role


Computational biologist

This form of biology is interwoven with data science, a career that's great for scientists with a passion for technology. You will look at theoretical methods and use mathematical modelling and computational simulation to gather information about biology.

These are just a few of the life science careers that you can choose from. Hopefully, this gives you some inspiration to look into life science careers further.

Life Science Jobs

Pharmacist in lab

A degree in pharmacy requires five years of study, typically including a four-year master's degree with an additional year of pre-registration training. Students are then required to pass a further pre-reg exam to confirm their eligibility.

With five years of dedicated and extensive training, it's wise to ask the question 'are pharmacists in demand' before you consider this vocation as a career and jump in with both feet.


Are Pharmacists in Demand?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of pharmacists is expected to show little to no change over the next decade; however, employment in retail pharmacies is expected to be impacted by the growing number of online pharmacies.

That being said, the story seems to be notably different from a domestic perspective on British soil. In 2018, The Pharmaceutical Journal published an article warning that Brexit could lead to a significant shortage of pharmacists in the UK.

Statistically, the number of pharmacists from the European Economic Area registering to practise in the UK has fallen by 80% since the Brexit vote. Should that trend continue, pharmacists could be in short supply, at least on these shores.


Mixed Messages

While the skills shortage should theoretically create lots of opportunities for qualified British pharmacists, it's worth noting that the world of pharmacy isn't the same as it was several years ago.

A combination of budget cuts and an increase in pharmacy schools over the last few years has led to lower wages, and many within the industry have been actively discouraging the younger generation from entering this field.


Clinical Pharmacists

One primary area that has seen a notable influx of pharmacist jobs has been GP surgeries. As a result, it's become increasingly common to see pharmacists present in medical centres and group practices in the local community.

The duties of a clinical pharmacist include carrying out structured medication reviews for patients with ongoing health problems and improving patient care through a personable approach. The addition has made a valuable impact on service, improving a number of areas as a result.

The presence of pharmacists in a general practice surgery not only enhances the level of customer service, it also increases the capacity of the GP, optimises medicine use, and improves patient quality of life.

As a result of this successful trial, the positive trend looks set to continue, due in no small part to the NHS's renewed focus on general practices.


Long-Term Plans

According to the NHS Long Term Plan, the health service is aiming to increase the number of clinical pharmacists over the coming years, made all the more likely thanks to the GP five-year contract framework introduced in January 2019.

This new contract is expected to create an influx of significant funding for the NHS, ensuring funds to support an additional 20k health professionals by 2023/24. Best of all, this stat notably includes clinical pharmacists by name within that prospective framework.

According to the details outlined in the new scheme, additional funds will meet a recurrent 70% of employment costs for new clinical pharmacists, as these professionals become part of the Primary Care Network's workforce team.

As a result of the proposed plans, bigger teams of health professionals will work across PCNs in community teams, providing tailored care for patients and allowing GPs to focus more on patients with complex needs.


Jobs in Pharmacy

In addition to NHS pharmacists working in hospitals and local surgeries, there are also job prospects within private hospitals and even the armed forces.

Meanwhile, private sector organisations also offer opportunities for pharmacists, notably pharmaceutical companies and those within the food and drink industry.

Research is another area that's frequently in need of pharmaceutical assistance, making academic pharmacy another worthy option.


Is Pharmacy in Demand?

So, while pharmacy and pharmacist jobs may not be the same as they were years ago, recent studies suggest that it is indeed a profession that will remain in demand.

In fact, according to, over 82% of pharmacy graduates found employment within six months of graduation. Better yet, 98% of those employed graduates were working as pharmacists, providing positive employability prospects for anyone already studying pharmacy.

While the game may have changed somewhat in recent years, one thing that will not change is the core principles of the job.

Pharmacy remains a people-focused service and will always revolve around patients and medicine, regardless of whatever changes take place around it. Whether you are a people person studying pharmacy or you're already a fully-qualified pharmacist, a job in pharmacy offers a steady and fulfilling future.

Browse Pharmaceutical Jobs

Photo from Pexels

how to provide a reference

If an employee of yours has recently moved on and started a new job, there's a good chance that their new company will contact you for a reference.

This is a standard part of most job applications and gives the new employer an insight into the personality, attitude and work ethic of their new employee. Here's what you should do if you're asked to provide a reference for a former employee.

Include details about their role at your company

To start the reference, you will usually need to disclose the person's previous job title and a brief description of what their job entailed. You might be asked to confirm the length of time that the person was employed at your company and list any achievements/skills that they learned on the job. 

Remember, new employers have to trust that the details in their new employee's CV are accurate. Asking these types of questions helps to verify that their new employee's claims about their previous job are truthful.

How will I be contacted for a reference?

Companies can reach out to you in a number of ways. The most common way is through a phone call with their HR representative, however, you might also receive a letter or questionnaire that the new company wants you to fill in and return.

Some employees might ask for a pre-written reference to take away with them. This will be a recommendation that they provide to potential new employers in the future, meaning you won't need to be contacted time and time again. Providing a standardised recommendation letter is a good option if your employee will be applying for lots of different jobs after they leave your company.

Do you have to write a reference?

Technically no, if you don't want to write a reference for a particular employee, you're not legally obligated too. According to the worker's right outlined on, references:

  • must be fair and accurate - and can include details about workers’ performance and if they were sacked.
  • can be brief - such as job title, salary and when the worker was employed.

How to write the reference

When writing the reference, you should highlight specific strengths and give examples where possible. This could involve talking about successful projects or tasks that the employee contributed to.

You should avoid adding examples that highlight the employee's weaknesses. If you're not confident that you can give the employee a good reference, it might be in their interest that you don't respond at all. A non-descript or unpleasant reference might do more harm than good!

Common questions on reference questionnaires

As we mentioned earlier, some employees will send a questionnaire for you to fill in, here are a few examples of questions that come up:

  • Why did the candidate leave your company?
  • What were their biggest strengths?
  • Would you employ them again?
  • What areas could he/she improve on?
  • How dependable is the candidate?
  • Were they good at working with others?

So there you have it, our tips for providing a reference. We have lots of other resources for employers that you can take a look at by clicking the links below!