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How To Ask Someone To Be A Reference In 2023: A Complete Guide

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You’ve spent hours working on an application for your ideal job.

Now, you need to figure out how to ask someone to be a reference before applying.

Finding references can be easy, but you need to confirm they’re willing to talk to the company.

That way, you can get the best possible references to make you look like the well-rounded candidate you are.

Keep reading to learn about asking people to be referenced, from choosing who to ask to how you should follow up with your references before the company contacts them.

How Many References Should I Ask For?

Sometimes, a job application will tell you how many references you need to provide.

If there’s no clear answer, a good rule of thumb is to get two or three people to be references.

Of course, you may luck out, and the first people you ask may all accept the request.

However, you may need to ask more people to find enough willing references for a job.

Providing more references will give the potential employer more options.

That way, if one of your references misses the company’s call, the hiring manager can still talk to multiple people.

Can You Put Someone as a Reference Without Asking?

There’s no law or rule saying you can’t put someone down as a reference without asking them.

But not asking can lead to some negative consequences. For one, the person you list may not want to be a reference.

They also may have too busy of a schedule to talk to a potential employer of yours.

Another possible issue is that the person you list might not have the best things to say about you.

So you could shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t confirm someone’s able to vouch for you.

Identifying Potential References

Before you can ask someone for a reference, think about who you should ask. You may not always want to ask the same people for every job you apply for.

Consider the Job Requirements

Look at the job description and think about what it entails. Consider how that relates to your skills or experience.

Then, you can choose references who can speak to your skills and how you’re prepared to fill the role in question.

Choose People Who Know You Well

Stick to people you’re close to or have known for a long time. They’ll have more examples they can share with the hiring manager. Plus, references who know you better can answer more detailed questions to showcase why you’d be a good employee.

Consider Professional and Personal References

You can also ask for different types of references, including past employers, teachers, and people from your personal life. That way, the hiring manager can get a broader look at you as a person and employee.

Avoid Close Family Members

When choosing personal references, asking your parents or siblings is risky. They can be biased toward you, whereas a family friend or a more distant relative can give the whole picture.

What is an example of a good reference?

Some good references include past bosses and current or previous professors or teachers. If you participate in extracurriculars or do volunteer work, your supervisors from those activities can also work.

Preparation Before Asking

Your potential references may have some questions. Make the conversation easier for you both by preparing before you make the ask.

Research the Company and the Position

The more you know about the company and position, the better references you can choose. You’ll also be able to tell the reference what they may want to focus on when the company contacts them.

Update Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile

Updating your resume is a great way to uncover new potential references. You can then go over how your work with a reference helped you prepare for this new job. Then, you can explain that to the reference.

Reflect on Your Experiences and Achievements

Looking back at what you’ve done is essential. You can share those things with your references so that they have ideas of what to talk about. Then, you can also talk about those things in your interview to emphasize those experiences to the hiring manager.

Asking for a Reference

Once you have a list of people to ask, it’s time to contact them. Here’s what you need to know to get the best possible references.

Decide on the Method of Asking (Email, Face-to-Face, Text, Call, etc.)

First, you should think about how you’ll ask someone to be a reference. Email and text messages are nice because they’re convenient, and they provide a written record. But you may want to meet with someone in person or talk over the phone, especially if they’ll have questions.

Choose the Right Time and Place

If you’ll ask someone to be a reference in person or over the phone, you need to set a time. Ideally, you’d make sure they’re free beforehand. Then, meet somewhere or make the call somewhere quiet so that you don’t have any distractions.

Express Gratitude for Their Time

Thank the person for talking to you about being a reference. People are busy, and it’s nice to receive appreciation for helping a friend, colleague, or student.

Explain the Position You’re Applying For

Tell the person about some of the job duties and skills required. If possible, stick to things that you know this person knows you’re good at. Then, they can highlight those attributes as a reference.

Provide Them With Relevant Information

Give your reference a copy of the job description and your resume. You can also send them a link to the company’s website or any other details you think are important.

Ask for Their Agreement To Be a Reference

Now, it’s time to confirm someone’s willing to be a reference. If possible, get this agreement in writing so that you both cover your bases.

What Should You Not Ask for a Reference?

Don’t ask a reference to lie for you. You also shouldn’t ask them to do or say anything that would make them uncomfortable.

Reference Request Letter Template

Dear John Doe,

Thank you for working with me at X Company. I’m applying for Y Organization; would you be willing to be a reference for me?

If so, please contact me so that we can talk more about the details.


Jane Smith

Following Up

After you ask someone to be a reference, you may need to remind them. This is especially true if the company has a longer hiring process.

Send a Reminder a Few Days Before the Reference Is Needed

As you prepare for your interview, send a text or email reminding the reference that the company may give them a call soon. That way, the reference will remember to keep their phone close by.

Provide Them With Updated Information and Any Specific Requests

If you learn anything new about the job, pass that along to your references. You can also share any changes to your work history or personal experience.

Express Your Gratitude After the Reference Has Been Given

After you learn the reference has spoken with the company, send them a thank you note or email. Tell them you appreciate the time they took to help you land a new job.

Example Follow-Up Email

Dear John Doe,

Thank you for taking the time to be a reference for me. As a reminder, my interview is scheduled for Monday at 11 am, so the company will most likely contact you this week.

The company’s phone number is 555-1234. Please be on the lookout for their call. Once again, I appreciate your help in furthering my career.


Jane Smith

Alternative Options

Not everyone has the best references, such as someone looking for their first job. So you may wonder who can be used as a reference if you don’t have a big network.

Here are some alternatives to consider.

Professional Reference Services

You can hire a professional reference service to vouch for you. These companies can act as your HR department or former manager from a job. They’ll use an answering script to help give you the best possible reference.

Online Professional Networks

Another option is to look into professional networks in your industry. You can find people in the field that you can talk to and explain your situation. Then, they can fill in for a reference if you can’t find someone from your personal life.

What If Someone Declines My Request To Be a Reference?

You spent so much time talking to people about your dream job. But one or more of them doesn’t want to be your reference.

As annoying as this can be, you need to accept the rejection and move on.

Don’t push the issue, or you could frustrate them. However, you can ask them if they’d feel comfortable being a reference for another type of job where they can better vouch for your skills.

If that’s not the case, take them off your list of potential references. Contact someone else who’s willing to talk to a prospective employer for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

If you still have questions about how to ask someone to be a reference, you’re not alone. Here’s what you should know.

How to ask a previous employer for a reference?

The best way to ask a previous employer for a reference is to call or visit them in person. Confirm the best phone number to use on your job application.

If possible, get the name of your former manager or HR person willing to be the reference.

What should I do if I have no professional references?

If you don’t have any professional references, you can use a referral service.

Another option is to ask current or former teachers, scout troop leaders, or similar supervisors.

They may not be able to talk about you as an employee, but they can still share your skills.

Wrapping Up

Knowing how to ask someone to be a reference is vital if you want to land your dream job.

You should know who to ask and how to prepare ahead of time. Then, meet with that person to discuss the job.

Selecting the right people as references could make or break your chances of getting a job.

As you compare your options, choose people who know you well.

Don’t rush the process, and don’t use the same references for every job.

Ask for references for each application and tailor those references just as you would the rest of your application.

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