When you ask for a reference, both whom and how you ask for a job reference are really important. You need to be sure that the person who is recommending you for employment is willing and able to give you a good reference. This is critical because your references can be what makes the difference in getting - or not getting - a job offer.
In addition, you shouldn't give out anyone's name as a reference without their permission. The individual who is giving you a reference needs to know ahead of time that they may be contacted regarding a reference for you.
When References Are Required
It used to be that every candidate who applied for a job was expected to provide a list of references either attached to a formal cover letter and resume in an initial job application package or at a personal interview. A few conservative industries – such as education, law, and academia – still expect you to submit your references with your job application.
However, not all do. It is becoming more of a trend that potential employers do not ask for lists of references (at least not in an initial application) – often because they themselves have a policy not to provide references to their own employees. This has resulted from the fact that disgruntled job candidates who failed to land new jobs have sued their reference providers for submitting negative evaluations to the employers with whom they are trying to secure new employment.
How To Ask For an Employment Reference
If you are in fact asked to submit employment references, you can ask for a reference by phone or by email. Email can be a good way to request a reference because if the person isn't comfortable recommending you it can be easier to decline by sending an email message than by telling you in person.
When you ask for a reference, don't just say "Could you give me a reference?" or "Could you write a reference letter for me?" Instead, ask "Do you think you know my work well enough to provide me with a reference?" or "Do you feel comfortable giving me a reference?" or "Do you feel you could give me a positive reference?" This way, your reference giver has an out if they don't believe they can provide a strong endorsement or if they don't have the time to write a letter or take phone calls from employers on your behalf.
When the person you are asking for a reference replies positively, offer to provide them with an updated copy of your resume, to share your LinkedIn profile, if you have one, and to provide information on your skills and experiences so your reference has current and relevant information on your employment history and skills. Also, take the time to stay in touch and keep your references updated on your employment status.
How to Ask for a LinkedIn Reference
It's easy to request a recommendation via LinkedIn's messaging system. When you request a recommendation, ask the person to recommend you if they can and if they have the time. This way they have an out if they aren't interested in giving you a reference, are precluded by company policy from giving references or don't feel they know you well enough to recommend your work. Here's how to ask for recommendations on LinkedIn.
How Many References to Ask For
On the average, employers expect a list of three references, so have at least three or four references ready to recommend you. The extra one is handy, just in case the prospective employer can't reach the others in a timely manner.
Create a Reference List
Once you have your references set, create a reference list with the names, job titles, and contact information for each of your references. Print the list to bring to interviews and to send to employers who specifically request references with your initial job application materials.
Do not send unsolicited references, though, to employers who don’t ask for these. You don’t want to take the risk that a) a reference might not have written a glowing review of your work; or b) the new employer dislikes and/or doubts the reliability of the reference himself. The best place to present references is at the end of a personal interview after you’ve already acquired the employer’s interest solely on the basis of your strong resume and professional background.