How to Ask Someone to Be a Job Reference

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Ken Chase, Freelance Writer

11 min read

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Well, you’ve finally earned that coveted interview for your dream job, and the interviewer seems to be impressed with your resume and performance. And then the unexpected happens as you’re asked to produce job references. If you haven’t taken the time to secure those references, there’s a good chance that you’ll feel your composure and confidence plummet! The fact is that you need to be prepared for that situation before the interview, and that requires you to know how to ask someone for a reference.

In this post, we will explain why interviewers want to see solid references and which types of references will make the best impression on employers. We will also provide some tips to help you learn how to ask someone to be a reference and offer some great templates that can help you request references.

Why do employers ask for references?

Before we examine how to ask someone to be a reference, it’s important to understand why you may need references. After all, you have an impressive resume and cover letter – right? So, why would an employer need anything more than that? Well, the fact is that even the most trusting employers will still want to verify the details you’ve provided in your resume.

In most instances, they only have a couple of easy ways to achieve that verification: they can conduct a formal background check, or they can contact your references. Many companies will do both since background checks don’t provide those key personality and character details that hiring managers want to confirm to ensure that you’re a good fit for the job and company culture.

When someone gives you a good reference, they’re basically vouching for your character and past job performance. They’re providing you with the benefit of their reputation in hopes of increasing your chances of convincing an employer to offer you a job. It’s important that you honor that gift by choosing your references wisely and doing everything you can to demonstrate that their support is warranted. In short, if you ask people to vouch for you, make sure you do the best job you can if you get hired.

What types of references should you seek?

The next question you need to consider is what types of references you should seek. As a rule, it is good practice to avoid using family members as references. Most hiring managers will assume that they’re biased due to that familial relationship. Instead, consider asking other people who are likely to praise your character, work ethic, skills, and achievements. Those references could include:

  • Your current supervisor

  • Current or former coworkers

  • Colleagues from your industry

  • Mentors

  • College instructors, if your career is in its earliest stages

  • Former employees, if you’re in management or owned your own company

When compiling a list of potential references, you should focus on no more than five or six candidates. Obviously, employers won’t ask for that many – they typically want only two or three, but if you can identify more prospects than that, then you’ll have alternative options if some change their mind or are indisposed when you need them.

Each of these potential references should be familiar with your personality and character and have a good understanding of your capabilities and work ethic. It’s also a great idea to find people who are well-spoken since employers will appreciate hearing from articulate supporters. If any of those people can reliably speak to skills that are relevant to the job you’re seeking, all the better.

It’s also best to choose people with whom you’ve kept in touch on a regular basis. A reference from someone who hasn’t seen you in ten years probably won’t carry much weight with hiring managers.

Tips to help you learn how to ask someone to be a reference

With that said, let’s look at some tips that can help you learn how to ask someone to be a reference. Following these recommendations can help ensure that your reference acquisition process is quick, simple, and reliable.

Line up your references before your job search begins

This is the most important thing that you can do to ensure that you have the references you need for any job search. Always secure your references before you begin to apply for jobs. If you wait until after you’ve submitted resumes or been scheduled for an interview, it could be too late because of how quickly the hiring process proceeds.

Always ask permission before using someone as a reference

Never provide someone’s name as a reference if they haven’t already agreed to provide that recommendation. To ensure that you have their permission, contact each reference before you begin to apply for jobs. Here are some tips to help you make those contacts:

Call them by phone whenever possible. This is a more personal approach and can enable you to quickly determine whether they’re willing to help. If that’s not possible, then send an email. We’ve provided some template examples you can use for either approach later in this post.

Ask politely, but make sure that you ask in a way that enables them to decline if they really don’t want to do it. For example, “I’m currently applying for several positions with different companies and was wondering if you would feel comfortable serving as a reference if needed. Will you have time to do that if anyone contacts you in the next few weeks?”

Be prepared to accept a negative response. More importantly, if you sense any reluctance at all, thank them and call the next prospect on your list. If they’re hesitant, they’ll be less likely to provide a glowing recommendation. Remember, you want references from people who are happy and eager to vouch for you.

Make it as easy as possible for them to provide references

You should also tell your references what type of position you’re applying for and ask them if they’d like to review your resume if they need to refresh their memory. It’s also a good idea to email some information to them if they need it.  Obviously, the best references will be those who can give you a glowing review from memory, but do what you need to do to simplify the process. Also, don’t forget to ask them whether they’d prefer that employers call or email them.

Prepare your reference list, but don’t include it with your resume

Once you’ve secured your references, compile a reference list to provide to employers upon request. Do not include this list as part of your resume. Send it only when requested to do so. Print up multiple copies and bring them with you to interviews to hand to any interviewer who asks for them.

Follow up with references throughout the job search process

Make sure that you follow up with your references. Start by sending an email thanking them for agreeing to help. After that, make sure that you notify them each time you submit their names to an interviewer so they have advance notice that they may be contacted. You can call or email this notification. It’s also smart to send an email letting them know how your job search went while thanking them again for all their help.

Example script that you can use to request references

If you plan to call your prospective references, it’s helpful to know what you should say before you dial their number. To that end, here’s a sample script template that you can use for the call. Simply fill in the required information and use this as either a word-for-word script or as a guide to help you navigate your phone call request.

“Hi, [reference’s name]. It’s good to hear your voice. I hope that everything is going well for you at work and that your family is doing great. How are you?

Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’m currently back in the job hunt and was wondering if you’d be willing to provide me with a job reference if I need it. Is that something you’d be comfortable doing?”

If they hesitate at all, tell them that it’s no problem and that you understand. Then, move on to some small talk and pleasantries before thanking them for their time and ending the call.

If they express interest in being a reference, continue:

“That’s great! I knew I could count on you. I plan to apply for a job as [job title] with [name of company] next week and think it could be a really great career move for me. Your recommendation would almost certainly help me secure the position, so I really appreciate it.

They’re probably going to appreciate the verification of my skills in [list relevant abilities] and my work experience and achievements – many of which you’re already familiar with. Should I send you my resume as a refresher, or do you just want me to email you some highlights? You’re already doing so much that I want to make this as easy as possible for you.

Oh, and how should I tell them that you’d like to be contacted? Phone? Email?”

Once you’ve secured their agreement to serve as a reference, you can thank them for their help and close the conversation. Don’t end it abruptly, however, since you don’t want to be rude. If they want to discuss how their kids are doing in soccer, then stick around for that conversation. You want the encounter to end on a positive note, so don’t just get what you want and hang up. Maintain the relationship.

Template email for reference requests

If you’d prefer a template that allows you just to fill in the blanks, then we have you covered. Below is an email template that can help you easily figure out how to ask someone to be a reference via email:

Subject: Request for a job reference – [your first name]

Dear [Reference name],

I hope everything is going well for you. I’m writing today to see if you would consider providing me with a job reference.

I value our professional relationship and all the support and guidance you’ve provided over the years. I’m currently applying for a position as [job title] at [company name]. It’s a great opportunity, and I know that your recommendation could be just what I need to make the best possible impression.

I know that they’re going to be particularly interested in my [list key relevant skills] abilities and my experience in [key experiences the reference can talk about], so any words of recommendation you can provide on those topics would be extremely helpful.

I plan to submit my resume on [date], and if you are willing to provide a reference, I will notify you before any interviewer reaches out to speak with you. If you are willing, let me know if you need more information from me, a copy of my resume, or simply want to discuss the idea in greater detail.

I look forward to hearing from you,

Warmest Regards,

[Your name]

A short and simple thank you note

After someone has agreed to be a reference, or provided a recommendation, you need to send them a thank you note. This is easy. Two or three sentences are fine. Just thank the individual for agreeing to be your reference.

If you promised to provide further information upon agreement, this is also where you should do that. For example, you can give them a template or some bullet points that show them what to emphasize during their conversation with the prospective employer.

All of this is why networking matters

This is just another example of why networking is so important for career advancement. When you take the time to maintain your network, you should have the contacts you need to identify great references. And if you follow these simple tips and use our straightforward template examples, you should have no problem learning how to ask someone to be a reference. Happy job hunting!

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Written by

Ken Chase, Freelance Writer

During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.

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