At some point in the job interview process, an employer will probably ask you for references. References are important because they help to give a potential employer a picture of what kind of employee you would be.
Your success and ability to impress your colleagues in the past is a good indicator of your future performance, and hiring managers will very likely contact your references for their insights.
Who you ask, and how, will help ensure that you get strong, supportive references. Here’s an example of an email reference request message, as well as some tips on who to ask and how to request a reference for employment.
Who to Ask for a Reference
Think carefully about who you ask for a reference. You want to make sure it is someone you know who can speak to your abilities as an employee.
While former supervisors and employers often make the most compelling references, sometimes choosing a different type of reference can be a smart choice for the job you’re trying to get.
Even though job seekers typically choose former managers as references, you might also consider a character or personal reference. Business acquaintances, professors, customers, or vendors can make excellent references as well.
Co-workers, clients, and professional connections can also make good references, as they can provide first-hand information about working with you day-to-day. If your relationship with your supervisor was questionable, but your peers loved working with you, it makes sense to choose one of them as a reference.
If you’re looking for your first job or are changing careers, you might consider using a character or personal reference as an alternative to an employment reference letter.
While you also should use professional references, an academic reference written by a professor or a mentor from your target field can provide support and evidence of your newly acquired qualifications.
When to Ask for a Reference
If you line up references prior to or when you start a job search, you won't have to scramble when a prospective employer asks you for a list of people who can attest to your ability to do a job.
When you provide the reference's contact information to a prospective employer, let them know so they can expect an email or call.
How to Write an Email Requesting a Reference
Phrase your request well: It's important to make sure your references will say positive things about you. Therefore, when asking for a reference, don’t simply say, “Can you be a reference for me?” Anyone can do that. Rather, ask whether or not the person feels comfortable providing you with a good reference.
Offer materials: Offer to provide the person with an updated resume and a description of your skills and experiences. You want to make sure the reference has your most recent employment information. It will be easier for your reference provider to write a strong reference if you give them supporting materials. If you are applying for a specific posting, also give the person a copy of the job announcement. This will enable them to focus on your most relevant credentials for the position.
Use a clear subject line: In an email message requesting a reference, your subject line should be informative and straightforward. Typically, including your name and a phrase like “Reference Request” is best.
When the reader can tell from the subject line what is being asked, they are more likely to read and respond to the request.
Include your contact information: Include your email address and phone number in your message, so it's easy for the person to respond and follow up if they have questions.
Remember to say thank you: Conclude your request by thanking the reference provider for his or her consideration. Don’t forget to follow up with a thank-you message after you get the reference as well.
Sample Email Message Asking for a Reference
Note that this email message asks for a reference letter, explains why you need one, offers to provide documentation, and includes contact information, so it's easy for the reference writer to respond.
Email Message Asking for a Reference
Subject Line: Reference Request - Janet Dickinson
Dear Mr. Jameson,
I hope you are well and that all is running smoothly at ABC Company. I miss everyone in the marketing division!
I am writing to ask whether you would feel comfortable providing a positive letter of reference for me. If you can attest to my qualifications for employment, and to the skills I attained while I was employed at ABC Company, I would sincerely appreciate it.
I am in the process of seeking a new position as a marketing manager. I look forward to continuing the work I have done in marketing while increasing my responsibilities in a managerial capacity. A positive reference from you would greatly enhance my job search prospects.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or if there is any information I can offer regarding my experience to assist you in giving me a reference. I have attached an updated resume. Don’t hesitate to ask for any other materials you think would be helpful.
I can be reached at email@example.com or (111) 111-1234.
Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you.
- Line up references before you start a job search, so you have a list ready when employers request them.
- When requesting references, be sure you're asking people who can attest to your credentials and qualifications for the job.
- Offer to provide the reference with an updated resume and a description of your skills and experiences.
- Follow up with a thank-you email to let the person know that you appreciate them taking the time to endorse you.