The Right Way to Ask for a Reference

Posted March 19, 2017

Professional references are important. They show a potential employer that other people support what you put on your resume, write in your cover letter and say in the interview. They can also vouch for your reliability, trustworthiness, and professionalism.

Hopefully, you have already done what it takes to earn some solid professional references. Because references are so valuable, it is important to get it right when you ask someone to take on that voluntary role for you.

Start with a big list

Even before you start sending out applications, draw up a list of anyone who could potentially act as a reference. They could include past supervisors, co-workers you had great working relationships with, people you've managed, teachers who recognized your hard work or clients you've provided services to.

Then, organize your list. Think about how each reference could help you with a specific job. Every reference won’t be beneficial for each job you apply for. You'll typically need two or three references, but you might want to have four or five dependable ones since some might be more right for particular jobs or industries.

Pick people you can count on

When you decide on references, select individuals who you know will do a good job vouching for your credentials, achievements, and character, Also, prioritize people who are clear and will represent you well to a recruiter. References from your recent past are best, but if a past job is particularly relevant or the person is of significant esteem, reaching back into the past is perfectly reasonable.

Ask politely

Once you've created your short list, call or meet with each of these folks to ask if they'd be happy to serve as your reference. Use email as a last resort: It's less personal and typically has a slower response. If it has been some time since you have spoken with someone on your list, briefly jog their memory and remind them what you worked on together. Then fill them in on your own current career situation.

Above all, always ask in a way that doesn't put them on the spot. For instance, you could say, "Would you be comfortable being a reference on my current job search?"

If your potential reference has any hesitation, accept this politely as a "no," thank them, and proceed to the next person. Never, pressure a reluctant reference, or else you risk getting a neutral recommendation from the person, which many hiring managers interpret as an unfavorable opinion.

Set the stage

As soon as someone says they will be a reference for you, give them a sense of what kind of position you're seeking and what qualities you're trying to showcase to potential employers. If need be, refresh your reference on the successes you've shared, like projects you worked on or reports you produced.

It's important to keep this little chat brief, recognizing that your reference is busy and they are doing you a favor.

Finally, be sure to verify your references' existing titles and contact information, and ask how they will want to be contacted by your potential employers.

At Ambassador Personnel, we assist job seekers with everything from resume writing to contacting potential references. If you're currently looking for assistance on your job search, please contact our team to work with a full-service staffing agency!