How to Ask for a Reference From an Employer

Even applicants who spend hours crafting the very best answers to possible interview questions often neglect a very important part of the application process: references. Potential employers check references, and the last thing you want is for your former boss to stammer and stumble because they weren’t expecting the call Here are some tips on how to ask for the perfect reference:

  1. Ask permission: Always ask permission before you list an employer as a reference. There are a couple of reasons for this. The main reason is that it’s just good manners. The other is that it will help you avoid a deadly silence when your reference answers a call they weren’t expecting (especially if it’s your current employer).
    There are two schools of thought on the best way to ask for a reference. One advocates email, because it avoids putting your potential reference on the spot: It’s a lot easier to ignore or reject an email than it is a phone call. And this actually works to your benefit – you don’t want the hiring manager from your dream job calling an employer who isn’t enthusiastic about recommending you. The other school of thought says that you should ask with a phone call or in person, because it’s more personal. The choice is up to you, and it may be different depending on the reference. You know them best, so it’s up to you to decide which method of contact they’d prefer.
  2. Whom to choose: In general, your best references will come from employers who can provide positive feedback on your job performance in an area that’s relevant to the job you want. But an employer who will sing your praises regarding character and work ethic is another awesome choice.
  3. What to say: No matter how much you want the reference, you need to give the employer an out. Use phrases like, “If you feel comfortable…” to avoid putting your colleague on the spot. The last thing you want is an unenthusiastic referral, so it’s in your best interest to make it easy to say, “No.”
  4. What information to provide: Assuming that you have a reference fully in your court, the next step is to let them know what the “right” answer would be. You do this by providing them with a job description and, to the best of your ability, the characteristics of the ideal candidate. 

So…here’s what an email might look like: 


Since we worked together for three years and completed a number of successful projects together, I’m hoping that you’ll be willing to act as a reference as I pursue the next step in my career. I’m attaching a copy of the job description so you’ll have a clear picture of the type of candidate this employer is looking for. If you feel comfortable acting as a reference, please let me know. I’ll wait for your permission before providing your contact information. If you have any questions, just ask.”

You could use the same type of language if you decide to make your request in-person or via a phone call.

When asking for a reference, you never want anyone to feel pressured. You want your references to gush about how your prospective employer should snap you up, not to stumble and stammer reluctantly. This is one of those situations in which being polite is not only the right thing to do, but also serves your interests.


Image: batanga