How to Ask Someone to be a Reference

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.

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.

Ask Nicely

Once you’ve made your wish list, call each of these people (or see them in person if you can) to ask if they’re willing to serve as a reference. Email only if you must—it’s much less personal, and also less immediate. If it’s been a while since you’ve spoken to a prospective reference, briefly remind him or her of who you are and what you worked on together, and fill him or her in on your current career direction.

Most importantly, always frame your request in a way that allows the reference to refuse gracefully—for example, “Would you be comfortable serving as a reference in my upcoming job hunt?” or “Do you have time in the next few weeks to serve as my reference?”

If your prospective reference shows any hesitation, accept this politely, thank her, and move on to the next person on your list. Never, ever pressure a reluctant reference, unless you want to experience the Limp Recommendation of Death—potential employers often view even a neutral reference as negative. Ideally, you want your new boss to worry that your former supervisors might trample each other for a chance to say how great you are.

How to ask someone to be a reference?

You have now decided on who you want your references to be. Now it’s time to ask them if they agree. So, how do you ask someone to be your reference? Via a meeting, a call, or an email?

It’s always best to ask your potential reference in person. However, sometimes that gets pretty complicated. Now more than ever because of the pandemic. Therefore, try giving the person a call if you can’t arrange a meeting. If calling is not an option either — let’s say because your employer is very busy — go for an email.

What should you say in an email asking for a reference?

  • Start with a greeting and a pleasantry. It’s better to smoothly transition to your reference request, rather than starting with it right away — that may seem rude.
  • Reminder of who you are (if necessary). It’s helpful to refresh their memory by briefly stating who you are and what your professional relationship was.
  • Explain where you’re heading careerwise. This lets them know you’re applying for a new job.
  • Phrase your request politely. You have to ask them in a way which won’t pressure them into saying yes, and will let them gracefully refuse. (e.g. “Would you feel comfortable serving as a reference in my upcoming job search?”)
  • Include details about the job. Your reference is surely a busy person, so make sure to save them the time of looking for the job description themselves. This lets your reference prepare for giving a relevant recommendation. Keep it brief.
  • Attach your resume. It’s important that your reference has all the updated information about your work history, because it lets them make a proper and relevant recommendation.
  • Contact information. Firstly, give them your contact info in case they want to call you up and ask questions. Secondly, make sure their reference contact information is correct (including titles).
  • Thank them. End your email by thanking them for their consideration. If they agree with providing a reference for you, send them a follow-up email expressing your gratitude as well.


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