My new boss wants references from previous jobs. So I asked my ex-bosses to write me them. And 2 of 3 of them asked me how do I want it to be written and what do I want from them to include there.

Should I ask my new boss what do he wants in the references or this should be left for my ex-bosses to figure out or should I tell them what I want? (after all it's not me who wants those references)

I never needed references and I've never seen any so I completely don't know anything about "industry standard".

  • 1
    Very often people will want you to write your own reference letter, and only sign it. This has happened to me very often (Canada). In this situation simply tell them that they should address punctuality, work quality, dedication, ability to think on your feet (aka learn and improvise), etc. Save copies in case your next boss wants these as well.
    – AndreiROM
    Jul 6, 2016 at 21:33
  • "My new boss wants references" Are you sure they want written ones? Because reference letters have gone the way of the dinosaurs in most locations and industries.
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 7, 2016 at 7:37
  • I'm sure they want written (I have it written in my contract that they want written references)... and this is why I don't know anything about them - 7 years in the field and never asked for. The question is: maybe I should ask them if just contact to reference-giver is enough, but this is off topic here. Jul 7, 2016 at 7:54
  • @MarianPaździoch Your contract? Have you already been hired for this position? Or is this an offer conditional on a positive reference check? Of course if it's the latter the hiring manager should be contacting references not asking for letters but I've seen stranger quirks.
    – Lilienthal
    Jul 7, 2016 at 8:49

3 Answers 3


Short answer: You ask them to write what you did (outlined in your CV), with emphasis on what is relevant for the new job.

You don't have to ask your new employer, they'll probably be scratching their heads at such an odd request.

Simply, ask your old bosses to talk about the skills and experiences you had in that job that are relevant to the new job. The best way to know what to ask is to look at your CV, and make sure that what you put in there for that position is covered in the reference from the employer for that position.

Your new employer just wants to make sure that you have done (well) what you said you have done and where you said you did it :) So look at your CV, see what you said, and think about the kinds of questions you were asked in the interview process. Cover those off and you're fine :)


You definitely shouldn't ask your new boss what he wants. He wants to know what your old bosses thought of you.

If your old bosses are asking you, then this is a good thing: you have the opportunity to consider what made you shine in your previous role. Your old bosses aren't going to put in anything they don't agree with, but they're putting the job of thinking back onto you.

Consider what you did well - what changes did you bring to the company that are still around now? What did people thank you for and compliment you on the most? What do you think you brought to your previous role?

Tell your previous bosses this, and providing they agree, you'll end up with an excellently specific reference that is probably better than what they would have written on their own :)

(I've even had a boss ask me to write the reference myself before, and have them sign it!)


They just don't want to spend a lot of time on it. Nor focus on stuff not important. Give more than they will need.

Marian worked on the follow:

Project: asdlkfja
Role: alsdjflasd
Performance: met expectation


Served on the following teams:

Team: Get back the grape soda
Role: taste tester

Regular duties

...  you get the picture  

- solid team contributor and can step in lead role as required
- organized


- show contempt to management - just kidding
  • I think that is true, but more importantly they don't want to be accused of sabotaging OP's new job. Basically this task is all downside and no upside. I would also try to avoid it. OP should write their own reference letters and ask their former supervisors to sign them.
    – emory
    Jul 6, 2016 at 23:18
  • @emory OK, that is your opinion. Why not just post it as an answer?
    – paparazzo
    Jul 6, 2016 at 23:22

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