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How to choose your referees

When you apply for a job in New Zealand, most employers are likely to ask for referees.

Finding local referees can be a challenge when you haven’t been in New Zealand for long. But you may have more potential referees than you think.

We asked an international student, an international graduate and a career development consultant for their top five tips for choosing referees who can help you succeed in your job search.  

1. Choose a range of referees 

Most New Zealand employees will ask for at least two referees, says former international student Diyva Kataria, from India. 

“I think your referees need to be varied,” says Divya, who is now working as a graduate civil engineer in Wellington. 

“You want a previous employer, a lecturer who you have a good connection with, a workplace and someone who can provide a character reference. It could be the boss of your previous company, a colleague or a friend.  

“You need to have referees you are confident about: who know you well enough, and who you know well enough.” 

Divya suggests one of your lecturers would be a good first person to ask to be your referee.  

“After a few weeks at the university, you could introduce yourself to the lecturer and say, ‘Hey, I am an international student. I’m applying for part time jobs and I’m studying in your class. Could you please give me a reference?’” 

2. Find character referees 

New Zealand employers are usually flexible if you explain that you’re new to the country and don’t have any work referees, says career development consultant John Dorado.  

He suggests you think about giving the names of ‘character referees’ – people you’ve dealt with in New Zealand who can say what kind of a person you are.  

“Employers want to have access to someone who could verify your character. They need someone they could check with to see if you are actually reliable and that you are who you say you are,” says John.  

For example, says John, a referee could be a host parent in your homestay, or someone you’ve met through joining a club or programme at the place where you’re studying.  

3. Ask for referees from your voluntary work 

Korean student Marie Hwang says volunteering is a great way for international students to find referees, gain skills and have new experiences. 

“From volunteer work, I’ve got a reference letter from a charity administrator. So even volunteer work can enable you to make relationships and gain a referee,” says Marie, who is studying for a Master’s of Professional Accounting and Finance at Massey University. 

Marie also says it’s OK to provide referees from different types of job. One of her previous employers from the hospitality industry gave a reference to her current employer, who is in a different industry.  


4. Make sure your referees are easy to contact 

There’s no point having amazing referees if your potential employer isn’t able to contact them, says John.  

“In some countries overseas employers don’t do reference checks, but in New Zealand they do these checks as part of the hiring process,” he says.   

“So it’s important to have a local referee they can easily access or call.” 

5. Think about how to approach your referees 

So you’ve found the perfect person to help you on your job hunt – but how do you ask them to be your referee?  

Divya suggests not giving the names of referees on your CV. Instead, write ‘Referees available on request’.  

“When you get shortlisted for a job, give your referees a call, catch up with them and say, ‘Hey, I’m applying for a job and I would really love for you to be my referee. Is that OK?’” says Divya.   

“Ask them about their work hours and when they are available to give a reference. You don’t want them to be disturbed, so ask them, talk to them, touch base with them, and then give their information to the employer.”  


If you’re an international student looking for work in New Zealand, you’ll find lots of support to help you on NauMai NZ, the official government site for international students.
Visit the NauMai NZ website

By Diyva Kataria, John Dorado and Marie Hwang

Updated 11 months ago

Divya Kataria, from India, gained a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at Auckland University of Technology (AUT). She is working as a graduate civil engineer in Wellington. 

John Dorado is an International Career Development Consultant for The University of Auckland. He first came to New Zealand as an international student from the Philippines. 

Marie Hwang, from Korea, is studying for a Master’s of Professional Accounting and Finance at Massey University. 


*Views expressed are the blogger's own
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