How to Ask for a Job Reference (And Actually Get It)

Do you cringe whenever a career coach or hiring manager asks for your references? That’s a normal reaction. A lot of job seekers find asking for references intimidating. Let’s be honest, asking people to say nice things about you is awkward. But it’s a necessary evil to land a great position with a credible company that cares. A rule of thumb is that it’s best to get a signed letter, not just permission to add their contact information. However, any form of reference that your people are comfortable is better than nothing. Most candidates applying for positions below Director-level don’t provide references at all. It always looks better, and helps you stand out, to give the hiring manager three to five references after their first contact to screen you (usually a phone interview). The minute you start applying, start reaching out and ask for those references. How do you ask for a reference, with confidence? Start by making a list of friends, colleagues, former classmates from college, or fellow volunteers.


Always Ask

When making your list, or even putting people down during the interview process, always reach out to your potential references to let them know. They deserve a heads up, and it’s rude not to ask. Most likely, they will happily give a reference. Colleagues and friends want to help you. They understand the job search and, likely, won’t feel annoyed at being considered as a reference. They may even feel honored. Phrase your ask carefully and kindly, as this is a favor to you, but be willing to put yourself out there and make the ask. It’s important to note, they may reach out to you for the same favor in the future, so consider people you think highly of, as well as those who think highly of you, before connecting with them.


Give Them All the Info

If you’re asking for a job reference, it’s best to give your colleague all the information they’ll need. Tell them the company, the position you’re applying for, and give a brief description of the job responsibilities and the skills the potential employer is looking for. With all this information, they can give a better reference that has relevant information to help the hiring manager make their decision. If you’re applying for a Creative Director position, where one of the required skills is project management for internal teams, your reference should be able to speak to your management abilities and describe a time when they observed your success in a leadership role. Without knowing that’s what the recruiter is looking for, they may end up writing a letter that talks about your ability to stay organized and meet sales goals (two things that would be great for a Sales Lead position). Help them help you and give them all the necessary information they’ll need to give you a glowing reference that will land you the job.


Always Follow Up

There are a few different ways to follow up with your references, but the most important thing to include in your follow up is a thank you. A thank-you is always appreciated. They did you a favor and they deserve the gratitude. After giving thanks, let them know the status of your application, or interview process. They’ll want to know how your job search is going, they’re invested now. And, most importantly, consider the relationship to determine how you follow up, whether it be via email, phone call, or casual lunch (you buy).


Consider – and Ask – Carefully

The ask should be different depending on the type of reference (i.e. who it’s coming from), and you should only ask those that can, and will, speak or write kindly of you. Not everyone you’ve worked with in the past has worked on a project with you and might not be able to speak to your organization skills. They might only be able to say you always brought the best doughnuts to work. Choose references who can give stories, or scenarios, to backup the statement that you’re an “innovative thinker.” Glassdoor has a list of scripts to help you ask your people, no matter who they are (former coworker, former boss, former supervisor). Essentially, the request stays the same, but how you phrase your ask is detrimental, as getting the reference is dependent on your language choice for each person. Your ask should be personalized, kind, and error-free (no spelling or grammar errors).


Gather Both Personal and Professional References

It’s the ideal to have three personal as well as professional references. People in your personal life can offer more insight into your soft skills, such as: problem-solving, empathy, decision-making, and many others. These skills are learned more naturally in our personal relationships with friends and spouses, and they’re useful in leadership positions. However, former colleagues, classmates, or supervisors can give information on your professional background and technical skills. Personal references also help the hiring manager determine whether or not you’re a good fit for the company culture. No one knows you better than those who hang out with you after 5pm or on weekends. If they can speak to how delightful you are, and how much they love spending time with you, then the hiring manager will feel better about bringing you on-board to a tight-knit team.


We know asking can be intimidating, but with these tips in mind we know you’ll get the praise you deserve, and references needed, for your next position. For more tips on job searching and tools you’ll need to land your next position, keep up with our news and job postings on pdxMindShare!