How to ask for a reference

How to ask for a reference

You want to apply for a new job. Your résumé is up to date, you’ve written a good cover letter, and now all you need is a list of references. So how do you go about asking people to be a reference for you? The following tips can help:

  • Select the right people. As Anne Pushkal explains in her article “The Right (and Wrong) Way to Ask Someone to Be a Reference” for The Muse, they have to be familiar with your professional performance and feel comfortable sharing positive information about your skills, experience, and accomplishments. In general, former supervisors and colleagues are good choices. In addition, if you have any contacts who are business leaders or subject matter experts, it’s a good idea to ask them, too. Keep in mind that most employers like to see at least three references — sometimes more. 

  • Contact them by email. This makes it easier for them to consider your request than if you ask by phone. Give people some time to respond — if you haven’t heard from them after a week, it’s probably best to keep looking. Most people are happy to serve as a reference, but there are always people who are too busy — and you don’t want to put them on the spot by asking again.

  • Thank them politely. If somebody doesn’t want to be a reference, simply thank them for their time and look for someone else. And of course, always thank the people who say yes, as they’ll be going out of their way to help you.

  • Provide them with an updated résuméIn the article “How to Ask for a Reference for a Job” for The Balance, Alison Doyle recommends sending your latest résumé to the people who’ve said yes. This will refresh their memory of your work history and qualifications.

  • Inform them about the position you’re applying for. This will make it easier for them to understand which skills or qualities you’d like them to refer to when contacted by a potential employer.

  • Follow up. When you know whether or not you’ll be accepting the new position, send your references a quick email to keep them up to date and thank them once again for their support. 

If you keep these tips in mind, you stand a good chance of getting glowing references that impress your future employer and help you land the job. And remember: If someone asks you to be a reference, it’s advisable to help them out. You never know when you might need them to reciprocate.


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