At some point during your job search, you will be asked to provide a list of references. You might do this as you fill out a job application, or it might happen later during the interview phase.
Employers rely on these references — as well as professional background checks — to fact-check what you told them in your resume or during interviews. For this reason, you should be sure to include credible references who can speak highly of you. And, you should let these people know that you are applying for jobs and listing them as references.
In this article, you’ll learn how to choose a reference, ask them to be your reference with an example email, and follow up after a job interview.
Choose the right people
Make a list of people who could be potential references. These can include direct supervisors from jobs or internships, coworkers who understood the value of your accomplishments or people you’ve supervised. If you don’t have much work experience, you can also consider people you know from volunteer activities and teachers or professors.
In general, the more recently you worked 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.
Notify your references in advance
The person giving you a reference 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.
Ask nicely 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: 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. 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.
Get started with this example email for a reference request
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
Dear [Potential reference’s name],
I am currently seeking employment as a [job title you’re applying for] and am hoping you will provide 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. Thank you so much for considering my request.
Follow up, both before and after
Once you’ve provided your list of references to your potential employer, send a quick follow-up email to let each reference know which company will be calling and, if you know the details, what information the company will be requesting. 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.
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. Let me know if there’s any additional information I can provide you.
And how to thank them:
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 all you did on my behalf. I sincerely appreciate it.
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.