How to Ask for Professional References

Why References Still Matter

While it may seem old fashioned to list “References available upon request,” the truth is that references still matter. Employers like them because they can hear straight from the source about your work ethic and attitude. References reassure an employer that you have the skills they think you have. References can tip the scales in favor of you getting a job offer.

But what are the rules for asking for a reference? Here are some tips to help you find and keep a solid list of references who are standing by to help you land that job.

Asking for Professional References

There are some unwritten rules about asking for references. You don’t want a simple request for a reference to end up burning a bridge to a friend or a former employer. You probably also want the reference process to be easy for the person giving the recommendation. Here are a few tips for how to do this well:

  • One big question we hear is “Who should I as to be a reference?” The answer is that you are looking for someone you worked closely with in your last job who can speak to what you were like on the job. A direct supervisor would be an ideal reference, although that’s tougher to land because if you’re job searching, you may not want them to know it. If you have a professional mentor, that’s also a great option.
  • Another great tip is to select someone from a recent job. If you’re searching for a reference from 10-years ago, or even five, that just isn’t as relevant to who you are today. Even a recent coworker could be a good reference, particularly if they worked with you for a long time.
  • Make sure you inform the person that a reference may be calling them. Do this every time to make sure they are properly prepared for fulfilling their role as a reference. Give them as much notice as you can about the type of role you’re applying to. What kind of feedback can they share that will be relevant to the job you’re seeking? You can do this in a text or email, or pick up the phone—but make sure you do it. Within this context, being surprised by a reference call can seem pretty rude to someone busy with their own job and life. If you’re asking for a letter of reference, make sure you also give the writer plenty of time to complete the document. Finally, double check emails and phone numbers and be certain the reference is comfortable sharing these personal contact details.
  • Even if the reference isn’t called, make sure you thank them profusely for helping you. They are doing you a great service and it takes time out of their busy day to fulfill your request. Write them a thank you card and send them a small token of your appreciation.

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ADD STAFF works with candidates just like you to help them find a great job. Talk with our team today about how we can help you find the right fit.