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How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference

by | Feb 1, 2021 | Business

Presented by

You are applying for a new job and the dreaded question comes up, asking for your references. Do you have your references aligned? 

What is a Reference?

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A good reference is someone who will say positive things about you. 

A reference should be someone with a bit of a distance. Generally speaking, you do not want a family member or a friend. Instead, you want someone who can attest to your skills whether that be in a job or in academics. 

It depends on the job on when they will ask for a reference in the hiring process. Sometimes they will ask in the job application, other times it will be after an interview. If you are a job seeker, you should have a list of references on hand who are ready to attest to your skills. 

An employer wants the names of your references. They will want their name, job title, and contact information. They may want your relationship with that person as well. An example of the information that you will need is below. Ensure that you have your reference’s most recent contact information like phone number and email. This way, they can be reached by a hiring manager. 

Mr. John Smith, Vice President 

1234 Business Road

Memphis, TN 37501

[email protected]

(123) 456-7890

The reason for references is that can shed a good light on someone’s overall personality, work ethic, and skills. While a resume, cover letter, and interview can show who a person is, a reference is another check that this person going through the interview process is qualified and legitimate. 

Sometimes a reference will be contacted via phone call or email, but sometimes situations require a reference letter to be written. Because a reference will be contacted, a job applicant will need to ask them to be their reference.

How to Pick the Best Person? 

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Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

Now you know what a reference is, but who is the best person for you? First things first, consider who this reference will be going to.

For example, if you are applying for a new position as an engineering intern, you will want a reference like a professor. If you are applying to transfer to a new college, you will want someone like an academic advisor. 

If it’s for a first job and you lack work experience, it is okay to reach out to people like coaches, religious leaders, teachers, and family friends. But, beyond a first job, it is best to use a former boss. 

Questions to ask yourself when choosing a reference: 

  • What is your relationship with the potential reference? 
  • What kind of job are you applying for? Are they someone who can attest to your skills for that job?
  • When did you last work together? If this answer is over 3 years ago, then that person should not be considered. 
  • Is this person a good communicator? Can they meet deadlines? Can they represent your skills?
  • What will this person say about your job skills?

You want a list of people who are confident in your ability and can articulate that to a prospective employer. 

Asking for a Professional Reference for a Job

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The most important thing when asking is to ask far enough in advance. When making a reference request, do not assume someone will do it and allow them room to say no.

Begin with asking in order of preferences.  If something asks for two references, ask four people. Then, in the event that someone does not follow through with their reference, you will have an adequate amount. 

When asking, you want to ask in person. If that is not feasible, send a professional email to them at a preferred email address. While LinkedIn might seem natural to reach out on, it can be a difficult platform to navigate if someone does not check their messages frequently. 

If they say yes, follow up with them with a quick email. In this email, let them know the company name, job description, your current resume, and cover letter. 

Following the reference request, send them a thank you in the form of a card. Being a reference requires time and effort and they should feel appreciated that they were willing to do that. 

It is also nice to give them updates after. If you get the job, let them know! They were able to assist you in that. 

Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

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Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

While a letter of recommendation is a form of reference, you want to approach it differently. Letters of recommendation are typically required in situations like applying for college, applying for transferring colleges, and applying for graduate schools. 

In this case, you need to think of someone who can attest specifically to your academic performance. Think professors, mentors, or academic advisors. 

With that in mind, tell them three to six months in advance, reminding them of the due date as time goes by. This is because professors and academic advisors get a lot of requests.

For a letter of recommendation, you want to ask them in-person and during a point of the day where they are free and not in a passing period of time. You want to tell them which colleges you are applying for, what programs specifically, and why you are reaching out to them in particular. 

If that conversation goes well and they commit to giving you a letter of recommendations, you want to follow up that day with an email. Remind them what you had talked about, highlight the due dates, and how to turn in those letters. 

In this case, too, it is nice to give them updates on how the application process went and how their positive reference helped. 

An Example of How to Ask in Person 

“Hello, Mr./Ms./Mrs. _____. I am applying to (College 1), (College 2), (College 3) for XYZ program and I would love to have you write me a letter of recommendation for my application. I am asking you specifically because I highly enjoyed your class and I think you have a great sense of me as both a student and a person.”

An Email Template for Job Reference

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Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

An email is the fastest way to get a response. Sometimes, it is the only form of professional communication with a potential reference. To get the best response, put your name in the subject line to catch their attention.

“Dear X,

I hope this email finds you well. I’m sending this email to see if you are available to serve as a reference for me in my job search.

Currently, I am applying for positions as (Position applying for). Having known you for several years at (Company), I hope that, as my former manager, you can speak to my (Skill 1) and my (Skill 2). If you are able to communicate this experience to my potential employers in the form of a professional reference, I would greatly appreciate it. 

I have attached a copy of my resume, cover letter, and job description for reference. If there is any further information that would assist in your recommendation, please feel free to let me know.

Thank you for your consideration and let me know if you have any questions. I look forward to hearing back from you. 


Your Name”

For more essential job search information, read more on the Scholars blog and tune into The Internship Show podcast and YouTube channel!

About Scholars

Scholars helps companies build engaging candidate experiences at scale. Create personalized journeys for all of your candidates from application through onboarding.

About Scholars

Internships and early-career jobs are unlike any others. They are often accepted months, if not years, in advance of the start date leaving plenty of time for candidates to change their minds and decide to work elsewhere, costing your team time and money.

There are two ways that have been proven to decrease renege rates for any company: keeping candidates engaged by sharing personalized information and helping them make connections with their future teammates. Companies use Scholars to accomplish both of these at scale.