In your career search, it may be necessary for a trusted individual to recommend you to a prospective employer. Asking for a business reference can be an important step in your job application process, so it is vital you appropriately ask the right person.
In this article, we explain who makes a good business reference and how you should ask your contacts to become your referrers.
What is a business reference?
A business reference is a recommendation from a business contact. Your reference can be a written letter or verbal communication. A good business reference can help you secure work by providing a competitive advantage over other candidates. It should detail your referrer’s relationship to you, your professional interactions and their opinion of you and your work. Providing three to four references for any job you apply for is typical, but you should only provide the number the job posting requests.
Who to ask for a business reference
Try to request a business reference from contacts you have a positive professional relationship with. You should have worked with your referee closely so they can vouch for your skills and professionalism. Some good candidates include:
- Direct supervisors from past or current jobs
- Professional mentors
- Professors (for graduates without extensive work histories)
Recent professional contacts are the most convincing referrers because they understand how you work. Using recent referrers lets your potential employer know that you’ve sustained positive working relationships in recent roles, which can indicate that you’re likely to do so in your new position.
Make sure you always ask your contact for a reference before sharing their details. Contacts usually provide better references when they are prepared to give them.
Read more: Resume Reference List Guide (With Examples)
How to ask for a business reference
Using correct etiquette improves your chances of receiving a good reference from your professional contact. Take the following steps when requesting a business reference:
- Determine the best contact method.
- Approach your contact as early as possible.
- Explain your reference requirements.
- Provide relevant background information.
- State how you will use the reference.
- Thank your contact for their reference.
1. Determine the best contact method
The ideal contact method for approaching your potential referrer will depend on your relationship with them. If possible, ask your contact in person. If you have a more relaxed relationship, an email would suffice.
Your written request should outline all relevant information your referrer needs to provide a good reference for you so they can write a referral tailored to the position.
2. Approach your contact as early as possible
Once you know you need a business reference, ask your contact for a company recommendation as soon as you reasonably can. Advance notice gives your contact time to think about your positive qualities and notable achievements. If you want a company recommendation letter, your contact will also need to schedule a time to compose it.
3. Explain your reference requirements
As references can be written or verbal, you should explain what type of reference you need to avoid confusion. If you need a verbal reference, you should ask for your referrer’s preferred contact method in your first conversation. If you know when your potential new employer may contact your referrer, share these details.
If you need a written company reference letter, note when the letter is due. Determine when your referrer can complete your recommendation letter and when and how you can collect it. Try to collect the reference in person, rather than having it emailed, so it can include an authentic signature. If your potential new employer has any other requirements, such as expected word count or pages, share these with your referrer as well.
4. Provide relevant background information
Relevant background information helps your contact develop a customized and persuasive reference that demonstrates you are a good candidate.
Share the following details with your contact:
- Information about the position you are applying for, including responsibilities and duties
- Information about your potential new employer, including their name, industry and company mission if available
- Information about your current role and responsibilities, if your referrer is a past supervisor
- The skills or achievements you want to be included
- A reminder of any notable professional experiences you shared with your contact
Add these details to your written correspondence even if you have discussed them verbally, so your contact can use them when they are creating your reference.
5. State how you will use the reference
Explaining how the reference will be used lets your referrer know what to expect. Inform them whether you will use the reference for one specific job or several applications. Note if you will publish your referrer’s contact details on an online platform, such as your Indeed resume, or only share them directly with employers.
If your intentions change and you want to use the reference again in the future, recontact your referrer and ask permission again. Asking for a reference again helps you maintain your good relationship with your contact and ensures they are prepared to provide a positive reference for you.
6. Thank your contact for their reference
Providing a business reference takes time, so make sure you thank your contact for their efforts. Contacts appreciate your thanks when they agree to write your referral. Taking the time to write a thank you card or email can make a positive and long-lasting impression. You should thank your referrer again for their help and notify them if you do secure a position they have recommended you for.
Read more: Guide to Thank You Notes
Verbal business reference request template
You can use the following template to create your own script for requesting a verbal business reference:
“Hi [Recipient’s Name]. I have really appreciated [details about your relationship], so I wanted you to be the first to know I am making a career change. I am applying for a few jobs with [names of company or companies] and would love if you would provide me with a verbal reference. Can I please add your name and phone number to my resume?
Thank you so much. I will email you more details of the positions for your reference. Applications for all these positions close [date that applications close], so hopefully you might hear from [business name(s)] shortly after that. If you require further information, please let me know.”
Verbal business reference-request example
The following example can help inspire you to create your own script for a reference request:
“Hi, Ms. Lightfoot. This is Charisse DeBlanc, your former administrative assistant. I am applying for an event planner role with Simplicity Events and they require a written business recommendation. Would you be able to write one for me?
I appreciate your help very much. I will e-mail you more details of the position to help you write your letter. Applications close on the 7th of next month, so could I collect the business recommendation from your office on the 4th? Thanks again for your help. If you require further information, please let me know.”
Follow-up email for business reference example
Once you know your contact will give you a business reference, compose an email or letter with further details for their reference. You should send this written correspondence shortly after speaking to your referrer, so they can easily recall your conversation.
The following example can help you write this follow-up correspondence:
Dear Mr. Ourada,
I am just following up on the conversation we had earlier today about you providing a verbal reference for me. I am applying for roles in three fashion magazines: Glitzy, StyleMax and The Longview.
As a junior reporter I would be expected to report on fashion events and style trends, conduct interviews with designers and perform basic administrative duties as required. I would love you to mention the engaging stories I wrote in your class and the interest I always showed in fashion. Perhaps you remember the bold outfits I wore to your lectures.
As I mentioned to you, applications for all these roles close at the end of the month, so you may hear from these publications after that. Thank you for your help in hopefully securing one of these roles.