The Art of Asking for References

The Art of Asking for References

Finding people who can vouch for the quality of your work as well as your work ethic is important and a valuable way to ensure that you are credible. However, there is etiquette involved in identifying and requesting someone to act as a reference.  Here are a few tips to help you identify and secure the best possible references to support your job search and networking process.   


1. A favor, not a requirement: Previous employers or professors are not required to act as your references or provide referrals.  Remember, asking for a reference is like asking for a favor. Those who act as references are putting their reputations on the line to state that they recommend you for a specific position and confirm that you have skills/qualifications represented in a resume, cover letter or interview. So, be professional and honest about what you can do and review these traits with your references so that they know what aspects of your work you’d like them to speak about. Also, don’t be upset or angry if a person you’ve asked to be a reference declines. You want the best referral possible and if someone doesn’t feel comfortable acting as a reference or doesn’t feel they know you or your work well enough to provide a good reference, appreciate their honesty, and move on. 

2. Ask before you list:  If an employer calls a reference and they aren’t prepared to speak to your strengths or simply can’t remember you it won’t leave a favorable impression.  

Be sure to let people know that you plan on listing them as a reference before you apply to a particular position. Not only is this a common courtesy but it also allows your references to prepare some examples of your strengths. This will help avoid any surprises when they receive a phone call asking about their experiences working with you.   


3. Make it easy to give a good referral:   The value of your reference’s feedback is directly tied to the information that you provide for them. Typically, those who are giving you a reference may need some guidance in terms of the job/industry and the most relevant skills you posess:   

“I always appreciate it when a candidate gives me a copy of their resume and a short note about why they feel they are a good fit for the positions they applied to. It makes it easy for me to give a good reference and allows me to quickly remember that person’s strengths and accomplishments.”   

-Anita Manuel, Career Consultant    

4. Send thank you notes and update references on outcomes: Maintain good relationships with your supporters by showing your appreciation and sending a thank you note.   As stated earlier, providing a good reference is a favor to the candidate and an expression of support on the part of the referee. Therefore, make sure to show your appreciation. Also, let your references know about the outcome of your job search so that they can share in your success when you do land that internship or job for which they recommend you.   

Your supporters want to see you succeed and have taken a part in helping you develop as a professional. Be considerate, continue to nurture your networks and give back to those who have offered you support (offer to act as reference for them, share resources, refer good candidates or positions their way).   

 Final tips and resources:   

  • Situations vary, but the more time you can allow for receiving your letter the better.  As a general rule request your letter at least a month or two in advance.
  • Be aware that most students ask professors for letters of reccomendation usually at the very end of the semester. Help your chances by asking professors earlier in the semester so that you aren’t competing with a large group of students.
  •  Make sure that the person you are requesting the reference from can speak to your skills/attributes. A person who has a high-ranking title but does not know you will be hard-pressed to give you a quality reference.
  • Every time you change employment, make a point of asking for a reference letter from your supervisor or a co-worker.

Sample reference letter   

How to get and provide references for employment


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