Who to Ask for a Job Reference

Woman on phone with laptop
••• Westend61 / Getty Images

When applying for a job, you will most likely have to provide a list of references. References are people who can vouch for your skills and abilities as a worker. Typically, your references will be your previous employers.

However, you can also ask other people, including teachers, volunteer leaders, colleagues, and even friends. Or, use them as additional references, especially if you are concerned your employer will give you a bad review.

Sometimes you will simply have to ask your references if you can put their names down on a reference list, and then the employer might ask them questions about you via phone or email. Other times, you will have to ask these people to write you a letter of recommendation, and send it to the employer. Either way, you want to select references who will speak well of you.

Read below for more advice on who to ask for a reference, what kinds of references there are, how many references to ask for, and how to create a list of references.

Who (and How) to Ask for a Job Reference

Who should you ask to provide references? Most commonly, you will ask your former employers and supervisors to be references for you. However, you can also include other people with whom you’ve had a professional relationship. For example, you might include colleagues, business contacts, customers, clients, or vendors.

Only ask people who you believe will provide a positive reference for you.

Your references should also know you (or your work) well. This knowledge will help the person to discuss your strengths and character in detail.

It's also important to select references who will respond in a timely manner to inquiries from prospective employers. When an employer is serious about possibly hiring you, you will want to have references who will get back to them right away.

Even if the reference knows you well, be sure to provide him or her with your updated resume and any other related materials to inform them of your skills and experiences.

Always ask before putting a person's name down on your reference list. Also, provide your reference with background information on the reason you're requesting the letter. For example, you might supply him or her with the job description, or write a brief summary of the job. If your reference knows about the job you want, they can frame their reference to provide helpful details.

Also remember to always follow up with your reference, sending a thank you note to show your gratitude.

Professional vs. Personal References

In addition to professional referencespersonal references (which are also known as character references) can be used for employment purposes. A personal reference is one that speaks not to your employment abilities, but to your character.

Personal references are ideal if you have limited work experience, or if you are worried that your former employer will give you a negative review.

Neighbors and family friends may be willing to write a personal reference for you.

Teachers, professors, academic advisers, volunteer leaders, and coaches can all also provide personal or character references.

How Many References to Ask For

Employers generally expect a list of three references, so have at least that many people ready to recommend you. However, if the employer asks for a different number of references, make sure you follow their directions.

What do you do if you have to include your last employer as a reference, but are worried he or she will give you a negative reference? One solution is to add a couple of extra references to your reference list who you know will give you a positive review. Another option is to be proactive and reach out to your former employer. You might say that, while you did not leave on the best of terms, you are very excited about the job you are applying for and would appreciate a positive reference.

How to Provide Information About Your References

There's no need to include your references on your resume. Instead, prepare a separate list of your references. Be sure to include their names and all necessary contact information. Here is a sample reference list, as well as information on how to format your list of references.

Follow Up With Your References

It's important to follow up your with your references, so they are aware of your employment status and know they may be contacted to provide a reference. Let them know when you're hired as well - they will be thrilled to hear the good news.