How to ask for a reference

You applied for the job and nailed the interview. Way to go! But now the hiring manager wants a few references from past co-workers and bosses.

Kim Costa |
Categories: Applying

Having good references that prove you’re a solid, reliable employee is important. Do you already have a list of people you can count on to put in a good word? If not, you’re definitely not alone. 

Let's face it, a reference request can be kind of scary. Just the other day, we got this question on our blog:

“For some reason, I’m really shy about asking people for references. Do you have any tips?”

We think it’s a great question and figured a lot of other people might want to know the answer, too. You never want to list someone as a reference without giving them a heads up first. You can ask someone to be a reference by email, in person or with a phone call. Here are the best ways to do it. 

Ask for a reference letter by email

When you send an email, you don’t have that awkward face-to-face conversation. But it can also be hard to get a response. Keep your request short and sweet. Be sure to help make their response easy by reminding them why you think you’d be the best person for the job. For example, try using this email template when asking a former boss:

Dear Mr. Smith,

I’m sending this email to ask you to write a reference letter for me during my job search.

When I worked for you, I think that I really grew professionally. I also feel like the experience helped me become a better employee. I know you will agree that I was always reliable and willing to learn, and I hope you will communicate that to my potential employers. 

If you have any questions, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Your Name

If you don't get a reply, you can always send a follow-up email. If you still don't get a response,  move on to the next person in your reference list. 

Ask for a reference in person or by phone

Asking for a reference in person or on the phone can be a little scarier. To make it easier, be sure to practice what you're going to say a few times. Better yet, bust out that laptop and write down a few notes to follow just in case you get stuck. Keep your request short just like you would in an email. Say that you’re looking for a new job and you’d like them to be a reference for you. It also never hurts to say how much you learned from them and why you feel that they’d make a great reference (don’t go overboard with the flattery though).

The best bet to help you get that perfect letter of recommendation is to be a great employee, volunteer or student in the first place. If you're in a job that's ending soon, ask for references from your boss or a co-worker before you leave and you won’t have to ask for one later.

Make sure your references are the right people: someone you've actually worked with. They can give real examples of your work experience and why you'd be a great employee. Don’t use family members or friends as references, it’s not professional.

If you have a question about who to use as a reference, ask us in the comments and we’ll let you know!