A lot of stress goes into the job search process. Wondering about how to ask someone to be a reference can be one of them. During your job search, you may be asked to produce a list of referees who can speak to your experience and character.
References are a crucial part of the hiring process. You don’t want your coworker to get a call asking for a reference without any warning. They may be caught off guard or even slightly peeved, which will reduce the likelihood of them providing a positive and detailed reference.
In this guide, we discuss how to ask someone to be a reference. We’ll talk first about why employers seek references and then outline some steps you can take to request a reference from a former coworker.
Why Do Employers Seek References?
Employers ask for references for a couple of reasons. First, a reference check helps employers screen for any potential red flags that can cause your elimination. This could be as simple as not being a ‘cultural fit’. Or it could be as significant as not having sufficient work experience or knowledge in using a specific technical skill.
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Second, a reference provides perspective from someone who actually has experience working with you. Sure, job interviews help an employer get to know you better. However, there is no substitute for learning about you from the people who have actual experience working with you. These people will be better positioned to provide an honest account of your performance and behavior.
Your reference check can make or break your candidacy for a position. This is because reference checks are often the final factor used to evaluate whether you are the right candidate for the job. This is especially crucial if you share a similar experience with another candidate.
This brings us to the crux of this article. How do you actually go about asking someone to be your reference?
How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference
Asking someone to be a reference is an essential part of the job application process. To ask someone to be your personal reference, you should follow these steps:
Step 1. Select your referees.
Before you even start asking for references, take some time to carefully choose who you want your referees to be. Choose people who can provide a good account of who and how you are as an employee. These are people with whom you have had positive work experiences.
Also, while you may have a favorite colleague from years ago, it’s best to select those whom you have worked with recently. This is because your character changes over time. So, a two-year-old reference is unlikely to reflect on how you have grown professionally.
Step 2. Ask your prospective referees for a reference.
When asking someone to be a reference, a good rule of thumb is to inform them of your intention ahead of time. Don’t just list their names and contact information on their behalf and expect that they’ll put in a good word for you off the bat.
Reach out to each person on your list of potential references and submit a formal professional reference request. This is where you ask them if they would be willing to serve as a reference.
Your request should include why you are seeking a reference from them. Do you think they have a lot of useful information about you that your prospective employer would find valuable? Or did you work with them a lot and have built a good rapport?
If they decline to provide a reference, move on to the next person on your list. The last thing you want to do is push someone to give you a recommendation.
Step 3. Share your expectations and needs.
Your prospective referee has agreed to give you a reference—congratulations! Now, take some time to tell them about the job you are applying for. Don’t forget to list the skills and aptitudes you wish for them to mention.
Don’t tell them exactly what to say. Rather, give them a few talking points. This could be a list of projects you have worked on that you think are really impressive. This makes it more likely that they mention the things the hiring manager wants to hear.
You should also notify the referee of when they need to give the reference. If you have already given the employer a list of references, give the referees a heads-up so that they can prepare. If you haven’t been asked yet to provide a reference, inform the referee that they don’t need to do anything yet.
Step 4. Follow up.
Once your referee has provided a reference, thank them for their time. If they have given multiple references, send a thank-you note each time. Following up is a great way to show your appreciation for the time and effort a referee has invested in giving you a reference. If you get offered the job, the referee will want to know. They will be delighted and will want to celebrate your success!
Sample Email to for a Reference Request
You may ask someone to be a reference either in person, over the phone, or via email. If you choose to contact them via email, you can use the following template:
Subject: Referee request for [Company Name]
Dear Mr. Richards,
I am currently being considered for the position of [Position] at [Company Name] and I was wondering if you would be able to provide me with a reference.
I worked with you at [Former Company Name] for [duration of employment]. So, I believe that you are in a unique position to provide my potential employer with relevant context about my skills and competencies.
Here attached is a copy of my current resume, which highlights my career progression since I’ve worked with you. Let me know if you need any other information, or if you are unable to do so at this time.
References are an important part of the hiring process. So, you’ll want to make sure that you ask the right people to give you a reference. Before you reach out asking for references, make a list of the people you believe will make the best referees.
Choose those that can give a positive account of your abilities and character. Then, politely ask them if they can provide a reference. Remember to be specific regarding what you expect from them.
That said, a good reference is just a stepping stone to convince a potential employer that you’re the right candidate for the job. Once hired, you’d have to prove that you can indeed deliver on your referee’s words.
While you can request a reference via phone call, doing it in person or via email is still the better option. A request made in person shows your potential referee that you put in the effort to ask him/her directly. If, however, the person you have in mind has a busy schedule, then an email would be better. This way, you’ll have more leeway to craft your message more carefully while laying out all the necessary details.
Essentially, yes. While not all employers follow up on your listed references, it’s always smarter to err on the side of caution. Having references to show for also reflects your confidence in your work ethic and skills.
Sadly, yes. Your current or previous manager is under no obligation to give you a reference for your potential boss. Although that may prove inconvenient, it might actually benefit you especially if you and your manager just don’t work well together.
The necessity of a job reference is often, if not always, indicated in the job description. Others request a reference during an early interview. While important, companies are not required to ask for a reference from job seekers.
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