Asking for a reference is nothing to be nervous about. It is a familiar experience for every professional. The tricky part is asking for a reference the right way.
Here’s how to pick the right person for a reference, and pop the question.
Never list a reference you have not gotten approval from.
The Perfect Reference is someone who:
- You’ve worked with directly and recently
- Has a favorable title or is in your desired industry
- Has positive feelings towards you, rather than neutral or negative
- Can provide specific examples of your work habits and accomplishments
- Is articulate, and has good communication skills
- You have asked to be your reference.
Before you ask
It is best to build and maintain a relationship before you need a reference. The most important thing you can do is to be a good employee who works diligently and passionately, actively building examples for your reference to use in the future.
If you are relying on past employers, check in by congratulating them on recent accomplishments or sending them articles they would find interesting or relevant.
When reaching out to your reference, phone call is preferred, but an email will suffice. Keep it polite and direct, without flowery language.
DO: “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?”
DON’T: “I was maybe wondering if you had time to be my reference for a job I’m interviewing for? If not, it’s totally fine.” Or “I put you down as a reference, is that okay?”
It’s okay if they are reluctant, don’t push it. Not everyone is comfortable, and a neutral reference can be as bad as a negative one. Reassure them that it’s okay and move on to a different reference.
Once you get their approval, give them an idea of the position(s) you’re applying for. Outline what skills and qualities you’d like for them to showcase; this will make it easier for both of you.
If the reference includes a phone call, give them a general timeframe to expect the call.
If you need a letter of reference, allow two weeks for them to complete it.
Send a handwritten thank you card, graciously thanking your reference for their contribution to your job search.
With each step of your job search and interview process, approach it with confidence and humility. Anyone you ask for a reference has gone through the same process. You just have to give them something to root for.