How to Ask for a Professional Reference (with Examples)


Image courtesy of Gradikaa Aggi

You’ve buffed your resume and you’re ready to take the next step in your career. Once you’ve made the decision to find a new job, it’s time to start thinking about who could serve as a professional reference. 

What is a reference?

A professional reference vouches for your experience, abilities, and work ethic. A potential employer will call or email your references to verify your relationship and to ask them questions about you as a professional.

Whom should I ask to be a reference?

A reference might be a manager, mentor, coworker, or client that you’ve built a strong relationship with. If you’re still in school or a recent graduate, this might be a professor or internship sponsor. Choose someone who can offer real insight into your skills and experience.

It shouldn’t be anyone you’re related to or someone you’ve had a bad professional or academic relationship with (obviously).

Can I ask my current boss to be my reference?

If you want them to know you’re looking for a new job, go for it. If you want to keep your job search quiet for now, ask a discreet coworker or former manager who knows you well. 

How to ask for a reference

Treat this request as you would any professional correspondence. Keep it short and polite, mention anything specific skills you want them to talk about, and give them some information on the jobs you’re applying to. And if you’re keeping your job search on the down low, tell them.

Finally, make sure they have the chance to refuse if they don’t feel comfortable supporting your application.

If they say yes, confirm their contact information (phone and email) and be sure to give them a heads up the moment you know someone will be reaching out.

If they say no, simply thank them for their time and wish them well. No hard feelings, move on.

How to ask for a reference via email 

How to ask for a reference over the phone or in person

Remember, on the phone you’re having a conversation. Let the discussion flow naturally.

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