- Always ask before including someone as a reference.
- Send a polite email or call them on the phone, offering a few details about the request including timelines.
- After your reference agrees, send them your updated resume and details about the position.
- Follow up in a timely manner, thanking them for their reference.
At some point during your job search, you may be asked to provide a list of references. You might provide this as you fill out a job application or later during the interview phase.
Employers rely on these references—as well as professional background checks—to fact-check your resume or interview answers. For this reason, you should be sure to include credible references who can speak positively to your qualities and experience. You should also let these people know that you are applying for jobs and listing them as references so they can prepare. In this article, you’ll learn how to choose references and how to ask someone to be a reference with examples.
How to ask someone to be a reference
1. Choose the right people
You’ll want to consider who your references will be early on in the job search process, as references can be asked for as early as the application phase. Make a list of people who could be potential references. Consider individuals who you believe will speak highly of your accomplishments, work-ethic, character and qualifications.
References can be any of the following:
- Former managers or supervisors
- Former employees
- Former coworkers
- Industry colleagues
- Advisors, teachers, mentors or instructors
Connections from volunteering, professional clubs or academic groups
In general, the more recently you worked or interacted with a potential reference, the better. But you can make exceptions for individuals employed at the company you are applying to, well-respected community members or a supervisor you worked for at a past job who especially respected your work.
Start your initial list with everyone you can think of, then narrow it down based on your priorities, the nature of the relationship, and the position you’re applying for. Typically, companies ask for no more than three references, but it’s a good idea to have four or even five in case one becomes unavailable.
2. Notify your references in advance
Once you’ve decided on references, notify them immediately. You want to avoid a situation where your reference is contacted without knowing you’ve listed them as it can hinder the quality of their reference and may even put the opportunity at risk.
The person giving you a reference also may need to write a letter, fill out a questionnaire or speak to someone from human resources on the phone. Providing this favor is no small task. Give your potential reference plenty of time to consider the request, and be sure to thank them for their time and efforts.
3. Ask politely and be aware of how you’re being received
If it’s been awhile since you’ve communicated with a potential reference, connect the dots between the past and the present, including what you worked on together and where you are in your current career path. Providing your resume is an easy way to do this. Always give your potential reference an option to decline by using language like, “Would you feel comfortable being a reference for me?” or, “I understand your time is valuable, so don’t hesitate to let me know if this isn’t a good time.” If they show any hesitation, gracefully back out of the invitation and move down your list to the next option. It’s better to preserve the relationship in the long run.
4. Provide them with helpful details
Once you’ve provided your list of references to your potential employer, send a quick email to let each reference know which company will be reaching out and, if you know the details, what information the company will be requesting. Provide your references with a brief overview of what the role is and any specific information you’d like them to speak to as this will make it easier for your reference to know what to say.
Here’s an example email for how to update your references:
Subject line: Reference request – update
Dear [Reference’s name],
Thank you again for being a reference for me. I wanted to let you know that I’ve completed my interviews for the [job title you interviewed for], and Company XYZ may be contacting you soon. I’ve attached the job description below so you’re aware of the qualities they’re seeking in a candidate. Let me know if there’s any additional information I can provide you.
Follow up with your reference to thank them after every reference they provide. You can do so through a hand-written letter or thoughtful email. Then, if you are hired for the position, take a moment to celebrate by sending a quick email to your references to let them know you’ve accepted a position and that you’re grateful for their help on your behalf. You might consider letting your reference know that you’re willing to return the favor if ever needed.
Here’s an example email for how to thank your reference:
Subject line: Reference request – Thank you!
Dear [Reference’s name],
I’ve just accepted the [job you interviewed for] role at Company XYZ. Thank you so much for sending a reference on my behalf. I sincerely appreciate it. I’d be happy to return the favor by serving as a reference for you in the future.
Thank You Letter Format
- Start with a greeting.
- Share your gratitude with specific examples.
- Include any details from your conversations.
- Close with any additional thoughts or information.
- End with a polite closing.
*Proofread your message: Take a few minutes to review your thank you notes for any spelling, grammar or syntax mistakes. A message that’s free of errors shows you’re professional and detail-oriented.
These contacts will likely be important throughout your career. By expressing your gratitude, you’ll be more likely to benefit from the relationship for years to come.
Asking for a reference email example
Sometimes a phone call or in-person meeting is a good idea for requesting a personal reference, but you can also start out with an email. Below is an example email template you can easily adapt, depending on the position you’re applying for and the relationship you have with your potential reference:
Subject line: Reference request for [Your Name]
Dear [Recipient Name],
I hope you are well! [Insert a pleasantry (e.g. ‘How is your family?’ or ‘It was great seeing you at the Women in Tech event last month.”)]
I am currently seeking employment as a [job title you’re applying for] and am wondering if you’d be comfortable providing a reference for me. Having worked with you for several years at Company ABC, I believe you can provide potential employers with specific information about my skills that will improve my chances of getting the job.
Attached is my current resume. Please let me know if you need any additional information to act as a reference on my behalf. If now is not a good time for you, don’t hesitate you let me know. Thank you so much for considering my request.