How to Ask Someone to be a Reference

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Many employers ask job candidates to include one or more professional references on their application. Before you list someone as your reference, you should ask their permission. This lets them be prepared and might improve your chances of getting a good recommendation. In this article, you can learn how to ask someone to be a reference with examples.

What is a professional reference?

A reference is someone who can describe or confirm your professional experience. Examples of possible references include former coworkers, work or internship managers, professors, coaches, or even heads of organizations you have volunteered with. Hiring managers might call your references and ask them questions about your skills and background. How your references describe you personally and professionally may help you get hired. 

How to ask someone to be a reference

You can ask someone to be a reference through a phone call, letter or email if you cannot meet them in person. First, make a list of the people you would like to be your references. Choose people who respect your work and will likely give you a positive review. Contact them in order of preference until you have enough references to list on your job application. Employers often ask for two or three references. 

Follow these steps to ask someone to be a reference:

1. First, be sure to give them enough time to respond before you apply or interview

Ask someone to be a reference before you apply for a job. Give them time to consider your request, review your resume and the job description and prepare responses to questions the hiring manager may ask. Keep your reference request brief, however, be polite.

2. Then, briefly recap how you know each other

Update them on what you are currently doing since you last time you spoke or saw each other. If it has been years since you talked to a possible reference, reintroduce yourself, explain how they know you. 

3. Next, form your question in a way that lets them say no if they need to

Ask someone to be your reference politely and without putting pressure on them to say yes. For example, you might say, ‘Would you feel comfortable providing me with a professional reference?’ rather than, ‘Can you be my reference?’

4. Then, describe the job you are applying for

Send your reference a description of the job you want and the skills and experience it requires. If they understand the industry and the position, they can talk with the hiring manager about the traits you have that are the most relevant. The more information you can give a potential reference about the job you are applying for, the better prepared they will be to give you an effective recommendation. 

5. Next, send your resume to each reference

Your resume helps remind your references of projects you have worked on together and tells them what you have been doing between then and now. 

6. Last, confirm their contact information

Make sure you have the current and preferred mailing address, email address and phone numbers for your references. Ask them how they would like the hiring manager to contact them. Also, confirm their current job title.  

Example of how to ask someone to be a reference

Many people first ask someone to be a reference through email. This lets you attach or provide links to useful documents such as your resume and the job description. Here is an example of a reference request email:

Subject line: Jackie Cook: Reference Request

Dear Dr. Devon Hart,

I am currently applying for a job as Marketing Assistant at Carlyle Media Group and would be honored if I could list you as a reference. After working together for two years at Blue Sky Publishing, I believe you can testify to my skills and experience in the media and marketing industry. 

I have attached my resume and a description of the Marketing Assistant position here for your review. Please let me know if you need any more information. Thank you for considering my request, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Jackie Cook

If you ask someone to be a reference in a letter, follow a similar outline, but organize it in business letter format. This format includes your name and contact information at the top of the page, followed by the date, your reference’s name and contact information. 

If you ask someone to be a reference over the phone or in person, the conversation will be more flexible. Still, give your reference the same information you would list in an email request, but let the conversation guide you.

Tips for asking someone to be a reference

When asking someone to be a reference, follow these tips to make sure you do so thoughtfully and professionally: 

  • Ask in order of preference
  • Listen for hesitation
  • Say thank you
  • Give updates

Ask in order of preference

Start your list of possible references with the people who you think can give you the most positive recommendation for this job. While most companies ask for two or three references, you might want to think of five or six people in case someone declines your request. 

Listen for hesitation

If your possible reference shows any signs of reluctance to say yes—a long pause or moment of indecision, for example—give them a way to decline your request. You might say, ‘I understand if you do not feel comfortable providing me with a reference. Thank you so much for your time and consideration.’ The best references will be excited and eager to talk about your job qualifications.

Say thank you

Send each person an email or a letter thanking them for agreeing to be your reference. You might send an informal email right after they say yes, then a formal thank you after you learn whether you are hired.

Give updates

Let your references know if you get the job. If they took the time to give you a reference, they likely want to know the outcome. Keeping them informed also helps maintain your relationship if you need another reference in the future.

After the required number of people agree to be references, list them on your job application or resume with each one’s full name, job title, company or department, phone number, email and mailing address. You might also include your relationship with that person. For instance, ‘Morgan Singer is the founder of the nonprofit I have volunteered with for the past four years.’

How you ask someone to be a reference can affect whether they say yes or no and whether they are prepared to give you a good review. Provide them with all the information they need to give you an effective reference. Then follow up with a thank you and an update as a professional courtesy.