There are advantages and disadvantages to speaking with a referee on the phone or requesting a written reference:

Phone references

Some advantages are that:

  • Referees may feel more comfortable sharing some information verbally than they would in writing
  • You have the opportunity to ask for more information about an answer they give, and explore any areas of concern
  • You are likely to be able to obtain more immediate feedback


  • The referee has limited time to consider their responses
  • For some questions, the referee may need to refer to the candidate's personal file, or other information, and may not be able to answer fully during a telephone conversation
  • This method requires interviewing skills, note-taking skills, time, and resources, and will normally involve a member of the selection panel. The referee's responses will need to be documented after the telephone call
  • It is more difficult to be sure that the relevant person is actually providing the reference

Written references

Referees may have:

  • More time to consider the candidate's skills, experience and attributes, and how to describe these to you
  • The chance to reflect on the reference request, on specific questions you have asked, on the information provided about the position, on the information they have about the candidate and on the wording of their response
  • Already provided a reference for this candidate before so can use this information as a base for this reference


  • You may receive a generic reference rather than a reference focussed on your requirements
  • The referee may not provide sufficient information, or may not cover certain topics
  • You don't have the immediate opportunity to ask for more information about an answer they have given, and explore any areas of concern (you may wish to follow up with a telephone discussion in some cases)
Last updated 14/10/2021 11.13 AM

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