How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference (+ Email Examples) [2020]

Building a reference list can be impactful to a job search as a job seeker. Combining references with a recommendation letter (or reference letter) can provide a potential employer and hiring manager with the right information they need to validate work history, skills, qualifications, and other key attributes in your job application.

A reference list or job reference list is of work references to professionals who can speak to and validate what it was like to work alongside the job applicant. This should be composed of colleagues or managers from a previous employer or past employer rather than the job seekers' current employer.

Tip: When a hiring manager is going to contact a professional from a reference list, they will inform you, the job seeker, that they intend to perform a “reference check”. From here, job seekers may want to contact their references and inform them that they may be contacted by a hiring manager or recruiter. Job seekers may want to schedule a “reference call” with their contact to guide them through what skills and qualities to highlight to the recruiter or hiring manager.

References can be useful for hiring managers during the interview process. For example, after an interview is complete, if the team or hiring manager felt parts of the job seekers' resume were not communicated effectively, they may rely on the references to help clarify. This can be impactful to increasing the odds of receiving a job offer for a new job if the job interview didn’t provide enough detail.

How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference

Before asking a professional to be a potential reference, determine whether or not the professional will be a good reference. This is someone who is willing to speak to you in a positive fashion. This is a possible reference that is willing to be a positive reference.

Some of the professional’s that job seekers may want to consider to ask to be a reference:

  • A professor or other academic references.
  • Former employer, former boss, supervisor or other strong reference with a significant job title.
  • Former colleague who had close work with a significant accomplishment.
  • Other potential referees include close family members or friends who had experience working with you in a professional manner.

A bad reference for a job application would be someone who:

  • Cannot speak about the professional using work history or work examples.
  • Won’t be able to validate information on the job seeker’s resume.
  • Does not have any connection to the job seeker, professionally.
  • Is only able to provide the prospective employer with character reference or personal reference information.

Tip: When asking a professional to be a reference, it’s helpful to provide the recommender a copy of the job seeker’s resume, cover letter, a link to the job posting, and other job application details.

As a job seeker, to create a reference request, choose the right person from your professional history and send them an email informing them of your job hunt. Provide the professional with details of your job search, like the job application and job posting information. Inform the recipient that a future employer may contact them to ask questions. Confirm the recipient is willing to assist.

Where to Ask for a Reference

A professional reference can be asked in a number of places.

By email

Email a previous supervisor, colleague, employer, or manager. Inform the manager that as a job seeker, you're looking for professional references. Indicate why they came to mind when considering professional references. Email is the best medium to ask someone to be a professional reference. Through email, the reference can ask for more information regarding the reference needs and a healthy discussion can occur.

Using snail mail

Asking for a reference by formal letter is an older method of asking someone to be a reference. This is more difficult as the reference doesn't have the opportunity to provide feedback, learn about the needs of the job, or inquire about how to write a great letter.

Through LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a wonderful medium to ask someone to be a professional reference. Often, the reference will ask the job seeker to email them directly, which can be beneficial if the job seeker doesn't have the contact information of the job seeker—aside from their LinkedIn connection.

Here's what to say through LinkedIn:

Hey Amy—

I really enjoyed working with you at XYZ Company. I hold our experience together in high regard. I was curious if you would be okay with me listing you as a professional reference for an upcoming job application that I'm submitting.

The role requires leadership and I was hoping you might be able to speak to that through our working experience together.

Thanks so much, Amy,
Ryan

Former Manager/Supervisor Reference Request Email Example

Below is an example asking a manager to be a professional reference.

Subject Line: Reference Request

Dear Mr. Smith —

I really enjoyed the time that we spent together working at Apple. There are many situations I can recall where you were a mentor to me as well as a manager. Situations that were challenging for me but taught me great lessons.

One of the situations that stands out is when we were trying to deliver on the iOS 11 build and I was able to motivate the team through some of your guidance. It was at that moment that I felt as though I educated myself on having great verbal communication skills. And I felt as though I achieved the next level of my career in that experience.

I would really love it if you could be a professional reference of mine and speak to that situation when a hiring manager calls you. Of course, I understand this is a big ask as speaking with a hiring manager can take time. If you’d prefer not to, I would understand and this will not impact our professional relationship.

Thank you so much for considering this ask for me,
Kyle

Former Client Request Email Example

Below is an example asking a client to be a professional reference.

Subject Line: Reference Request

Dear Mr. Smith —

It was wonderful working together at XYZ Company. During that time, we had the opportunity to work on a number of projects that I'm truly proud of. One of which was Project Adobe, which I believe many future employers will appreciate. It showed great leadership on our part, innovation, and the ability to adapt to changing market conditions. As I'm applying for positions in the coming future, one of the things that I'll be looking to provide my hiring manager is my ability to be adaptable and to lead a team. I was hoping they might be able to contact you in order to share our experience on Project Adobe, and what it was like to work alongside myself. I would really love it if you could be a professional reference of mine and speak to that situation when a hiring manager calls you. Of course, I understand this is a big ask as speaking with a hiring manager can take time. If you’d prefer not to, I would understand and this will not impact our professional relationship.

Thank you so much for considering this ask for me,
Kyle

Former Colleague Reference Request Email Example

Below is an example asking a colleague to be a professional reference.

Subject Line: Reference Request

Dear Mr. Smith —

It was wonderful working together at XYZ Company. During that time, we had the opportunity to work on a number of projects that I'm truly proud of. One of which was Project Adobe, which I believe many future employers will appreciate. It showed great leadership on our part, innovation, and the ability to adapt to changing market conditions.

As I'm applying for positions in the coming future, one of the things that I'll be looking to provide my hiring manager is my ability to be adaptable and to lead a team. I was hoping they might be able to contact you in order to share our experience on Project Adobe, and what it was like to work alongside myself.

I would really love it if you could be a professional reference of mine and speak to that situation when a hiring manager calls you. Of course, I understand this is a big ask as speaking with a hiring manager can take time. If you’d prefer not to, I would understand and this will not impact our professional relationship.

Thank you so much for considering this ask for me,
Kyle

Grad School Reference Request Email Example

Below is an example of asking a colleague or manager to be a reference for graduate school.

Subject Line: Reference Request

Dear Mr. Smith —

It was wonderful working together at XYZ Company. During that time, we had the opportunity to work on a number of projects that I'm truly proud of. One of which was Project Adobe, which I believe many future employers will appreciate. It showed great leadership on our part, innovation, and the ability to adapt to changing market conditions.

As you know, I've decided to return to school and receive my graduate degree. As part of my application, I'm required to receive three references and letters that display qualities that the institution values. One of which I feel is the merits we were able to achieve through Project Adobe. I was hoping that you might be willing to speak with the admissions committee if they call. And potentially write a letter of recommendation that speaks to the necessary qualities for graduate school applicants to Carnegie Mellon University.

I really appreciate considering this opportunity and potentially providing valuable time toward writing a strong letter of recommendation for me. And being a reference.

Thank you so much for considering this ask for me,
Kyle

Email Reference Request Template

Below is a sample email template to use when asking someone to be a professional reference.

Subject Line: Reference Request

Dear [Colleage/Manager's Name] —

I really enjoyed the time that we spent together working at [Company Name]]. There are many situations I can recall where you were a mentor to me as well as a manager. Situations that were challenging for me but taught me great lessons.

One of the situations that stands out is when we were trying to [Significant Work Experience]. It was at that moment that I felt as though I educated myself on having great [Skills or Qualifications]. And I felt as though I achieved the next level of my career in that experience.

I would really love it if you could be a professional reference of mine and speak to that situation when a hiring manager calls you. Of course, I understand this is a big ask as speaking with a hiring manager can take time. If you’d prefer not to, I would understand and this will not impact our professional relationship.

Thank you so much for considering this ask for me,
Kyle

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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