How to Ask for a Reference (Tips, Examples & Template)

It’s only as awkward as you make it.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to ask for a reference

Starting a new chapter in your professional life or pursuing fresh opportunities often relies on solid support. Here, the role of a reference is crucial.

It involves more than just adding a name to your job application; it’s about selecting someone who can effectively endorse your skills and work experience, especially in the context of your targeted role.

This guide will help you understand what a reference entails, how to identify the best candidates, and the most effective ways to approach them. Our aim is to make you feel confident and well-prepared as you move forward in your career journey.

What is a reference?

According to Muchinsky, as cited in the International Journal of Selection and Assessment, reference checks are among the most under-researched methods used in landing a job.

A reference is essentially a professional thumbs-up. It’s someone who can speak highly of your abilities and experiences, providing prospective employers with a glimpse of your potential.

They serve as a verbal or written endorsement of your skills, job title and overall work ethic. Their insight can be pivotal in the hiring process, swaying hiring managers and potential employers in your favor.

Types of references you can use

Choosing the right reference is crucial. Here’s a quick guide to help you decide:

  • Professional references: These are people who know your professional persona. Think former employers or colleagues who can attest to your work-related skills.
  • Academic references: Teachers or professors who can speak to your learning abilities and dedication.
  • Personal references: Individuals who know you well personally and can vouch for your character and soft skills.
  • Volunteer references: Supervisors from volunteer work can highlight your community involvement and teamwork skills.
  • Client references: If you’ve done freelance work, clients can provide insight into your professionalism and ability to deliver results.
  • Mentor references: A mentor who has guided you in your career can provide a comprehensive view of your growth and potential.

How to choose the best reference

Picking the right person to serve as a reference is more art than science. You need someone who cannot just confirm your job title but who can also genuinely speak highly of your skill set and work ethic.

Think of someone who has closely seen your professional growth and can provide examples relevant to the role you’re targeting. Consider selecting a past supervisor, a reliable coworker or perhaps a mentor.

The essential factor is to pick someone familiar enough with your work and character to give a positive résumé reference and who would be at ease endorsing you to potential employers or hiring managers.

How to ask for a reference

Asking for a reference requires tact and thoughtfulness. Below are 10 tips that provide concise, practical suggestions on selecting the right person and crafting a respectful request to bolster your career journey effectively.

1. Personalize your request

When asking for a reference, personalization is key.

Start by addressing your potential referee by their name — it shows respect and attention to detail. Then, add a personal touch. Mention specific instances or projects where their influence positively impacted your career. This not only makes your request more engaging but also reminds them of your shared experiences and your professional capabilities.

Personalizing your request in this way establishes a connection and makes it more likely that they will respond favorably.

2. Be clear

Being prepared and clear in your request is crucial.

Begin by briefly explaining the role you’re applying for, including the job title and a brief description of what it entails. This gives your referee context on what skills and experiences to highlight in their reference.

Also, explain why you think they would be an ideal person to vouch for you. Whether it’s their first-hand experience of your skill set or their position in a related field, making these reasons clear helps them understand the significance of their reference in your job application process.

3. Provide context

When asking for a reference, giving context is essential.

Along with your request, share your most recent résumé and a brief description of the role you’re applying for. This helps your referee understand your current professional status and the specific requirements of the position.

Providing this information allows them to tailor their reference more effectively, ensuring that it aligns with the job description and highlights the most relevant aspects of your skill set and experience.

It’s all about making it as easy as possible for them to give a strong, relevant reference.

4. Use the right medium

Communication is key, and how you reach out can make a big difference.

Consider the preferred communication style of the person you’re asking to be your reference. If they’re more formal, an email might be best. For those who prefer direct interaction, a phone call or an in-person meeting can be more appropriate.

Adapting to their preferred medium shows respect for their comfort and can increase the likelihood of a positive response. It’s about finding that balance between what works best for both of you.

5. Give a heads-up

Surprises are great for birthdays, but not so much for reference requests. Before sending a formal request, reach out informally to give them a heads-up. This can be a brief call or a casual email, just to gauge their comfort and willingness to be your reference.

This approach shows respect for their time and consent, and it provides them with the opportunity to decline gracefully if they’re not in a position to help.

By doing this, you’re not only being courteous but also ensuring that your reference is willing and prepared to speak highly of you.

6. Include contact info

Ensuring your referee has your current contact information is a small but vital step. When you request a reference, include your up-to-date contact details — an email address and a phone number, for example.

This makes it easier for them to reach you if they need more information or have questions. It also demonstrates your professionalism and attention to detail.

Remember: the goal is to make the process as seamless as possible for your reference, and having your contact info readily available does just that.

7. Be specific

When you’re requesting a reference, don’t be shy about specifying what you’d like them to focus on. If there’s a particular skill, project or experience that’s especially relevant to the job you’re applying for, mention it.

This helps your referee tailor their recommendation to best suit the role, ensuring they highlight the aspects of your work that will resonate most with potential employers. It also shows that you’re thoughtful and strategic about your career progression, qualities that are always appealing to prospective employers.

8. Thank them

Gratitude goes a long way. Regardless of whether your referee agrees to provide a reference or not, thank them for considering your request. A simple note of appreciation acknowledges the time and effort they would need to invest in providing a reference.

It also helps maintain a positive, respectful relationship, which is crucial in the professional world. Remember: today’s referee could be tomorrow’s colleague, mentor or even employer, so leaving a lasting, positive impression is key.

9. Follow up

Once someone agrees to be your reference, it’s important to keep them in the loop. After key milestones in the hiring process, like interviews or job offers, send them a brief update.

This not only shows your appreciation for their support but also keeps them informed, which is especially important if they’re contacted by your prospective employers. Following up demonstrates your professionalism and respect for their contribution to your job search journey. It’s a simple but effective way to show gratitude and maintain a positive relationship.

10. Stay in touch

Maintaining a connection with your references after the job application process is over is crucial. Whether you got the job or not, let them know the outcome and thank them again for their support. After that, periodically check in with them, sharing professional updates or even just a friendly hello.

This ongoing communication helps build a lasting professional relationship. Your references are valuable contacts in your network, and nurturing these relationships can lead to more opportunities and support in the future.

Remember: networking is about giving and taking. Staying in touch shows that you value the relationship beyond the immediate need for a reference.

Reference request template

Crafting the perfect email to ask for a reference? Here’s a template to make it easier for you:

Subject Line: Request for a Professional Reference

Hi [Reference’s Name],

I hope this message finds you well. I am seeking your assistance as a reference for a position I am currently pursuing. Your insight into my skill set and work experience would be incredibly valuable during the hiring process.

I am applying for [job position], and I believe your perspective on my abilities and contributions during our time [working together/your class/etc] would greatly benefit my application. I’ve attached a brief overview of the job description to give you a better understanding of the position.

If you feel comfortable and are willing to speak highly of my professional abilities to potential employers, please let me know. Your support means a lot to me, and I am truly grateful for your time and consideration.

I understand you have a busy schedule, so if you need any additional information or would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me via [call/email]. My email address is [your email address], and I am available for a call at your earliest convenience.

Thank you once again for considering my request. I look forward to hearing from you.

Warm regards,

[Your Name]

[Your Contact Info]

Reference request examples

Looking for inspiration on how to ask for a reference? To help prevent common mistakes, here are three examples tailored to different situations:

Request to a former employer

Subject Line: Reference Request for Mike Johnson

Dear John,

I hope you’re doing well. As I’m seeking new opportunities, I’m writing to ask if you’d be comfortable providing a reference for me. Your insights into my content management skills and contributions at Company ABC would be invaluable.

I’m applying for a content manager position, and your perspective on my performance and work experience would significantly aid my application. I’ve attached the job description for your reference.

If you agree, could you please include details about my CMS and SEO knowledge and how I helped contribute to the company’s increased web traffic and revenue?

Thank you for considering my request. I appreciate your support.

Best regards,

Mike Johnson

Request to a university lecturer

Subject Line: Reference Request — Melissa Hunt

Hello Professor Grey,

I hope this message finds you well. I am currently in the process of applying for an accounting job and would be honored if you could provide a reference for me.

Your guidance in accounting and international taxation law had a profound impact on my academic development, and I believe your endorsement would be a significant asset to my application.

If you are willing to assist, please feel free to mention any specific skills you believe that are noteworthy and that are relevant to the role.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Melissa Hunt

Request to a professional mentor

Subject Line: Seeking Your Endorsement — Jessica Sampson

Dear Mr McDonald,

I hope you’re doing great. I am reaching out to request a reference from you for a marketing assistant position I am applying for. Your mentorship has been pivotal in shaping my career, and your endorsement would mean a lot to me.

The role is highly relevant to the role you mentored me on, and I believe your insights into my professional growth and skill set would be highly beneficial for my application.

Please let me know if you need any further details or if there is a convenient time for a call.

Thank you for everything.

Warm regards,

Jessica Sampson

How to follow up

After you’ve sent your reference request, following up is crucial. It shows your appreciation and keeps you on their radar.

Start by sending a “thank you” email once they agree to serve as a reference. This is not just good manners; it reinforces your professional relationship.

Next, keep them updated. If you land an interview or get the job, let them know. This keeps them in the loop and shows that their reference was valuable.

When you follow up, be concise and respectful of their time. A short email or call will do. Here’s an example:

Subject Line: Thank You for Your Reference — Elias Davis

Hi Helen,

I wanted to express my heartfelt thanks for agreeing to be a reference for the web designer position. Your support is greatly appreciated.

I’ll keep you updated on the progress of my application. If there’s any additional information you need from me, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you once again for your help.

Best regards,

Elias Davis

Key takeaways

The process of requesting a reference letter requires certain key points. These takeaways are not just steps to follow but also embody best practices to ensure that your reference requests are effective and well-received.

Here’s a recap of the essential strategies we’ve covered:

  • Pick someone who can speak highly of your skill set and work experience, and is relevant to the role.
  • Personalize your request with a clear subject line, and explain the job description and why you’ve chosen them as a reference.
  • Include your contact info and any relevant details to help your reference tailor their recommendation.
  • Always thank your references and keep them updated on your application’s progress.
  • Stay in touch with your references, even after the hiring process. They are valuable contacts for your professional network.

Remember: references can significantly influence hiring managers and prospective employers. Handle these requests with professionalism and gratitude to make a lasting impression.

Got a question or want to share your own tips? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on August 13, 2015.