May 10, 2022    |    By

Landing a dream job is no easy task. It can be even more difficult if you don’t have any reference letters to send with your resume. References are crucial to the job application process because they give the employer a chance to verify everything you have given them, from your skills and past experiences to your character and work ethic.

However, finding references can be a whole process in and of itself. You don’t want to ask for a reference from the wrong person, after all. With that in mind, the following guide will help you figure out how to ask someone to be your reference.

Why You Need References

Reference letters are important because they offer the potential employer a chance to learn more about you, beyond what is included on your resume. Having reference letters gives employers peace of mind and helps them with decision-making

Employers use reference letters for the following:

  • To Verify The Job Experiences On Your Resume: Employers will often call your previous employers to ask about your work history. Having reference letters from previous managers can help validate the information that you have given on your resume.

  • To Verify Your Skills: Employers want to make sure that you actually have the skills that you say you do. They’ll ask for reference letters from people who can verify your skills and work history.

  • To Verify Your Character: Employers want to know if you’ll be a good fit for the company. They’ll often ask references for insight into your character and work ethic, and how you operate in the workplace.

Who Can Be Your Reference?

There are a few different types of reference letters that you can ask for. Previous employers are not the only people that can be your reference. With that in mind, the following are a few people you could turn to for a reference:

  • Past Employers: Employers are the most common references. After all, they are the ones that hired you, and can speak to your skills, experience, and character.

  • Former Co-workers: If you have a good relationship with the co-workers at your previous job, they could be a great reference. As they have worked alongside you, they can attest to your skills and work ethic. Employers care about what former co-workers have to say about working with you, especially if the job involves working in teams.

  • Professors: If you’re a recent graduate, you can ask one of your professors to be a reference. They can talk about your knowledge and problem-solving skills, as well as your ability to work with other students.

  • Your Current Employer: If you are currently employed, you can ask your current employer to be a reference. They can talk about how long you’ve been with the company, your work ethic, and skills. Of course, doing so can be uncomfortable since you’re obviously looking to leave your current job.

How To Determine If Someone Will Be A Suitable Reference

You don’t want to just ask anybody to be your reference. After all, what your reference says and how they say it will reflect on you. If you choose an unsuitable reference, they could end up negatively impacting your ability to get the job.

With that in mind, ask yourself the following questions before you decide to ask someone to be a reference for you:

  • What is your relationship with your reference?

    Consider your relationship with the person you want to be your reference. Are you friends? Co-workers? Family members? If you’re not close with the reference, they might not be too keen on writing a letter on your behalf, especially if they’re busy. A person you didn’t get along with well isn’t going to be a good reference either.

    For instance, even if you did a great job, a previous boss that you had conflict with might not be a good reference.

  • Is your reference in the same field as the job you are applying for?

    If you are applying for a job in real estate, but you know your reference from your job as a waiter, their reference letter may not be all that helpful. If your reference is from a different field, their knowledge of you and your skills may not be relevant to the job you’re applying for. Consider finding a reference from the same field as the job you want.

  • What will your reference say about you?

    Does your reference have positive things to say about your job performance? Or will they list all of the things they think you did wrong when you worked for them? It’s best to choose a reference that will endorse you and your skills. If your reference doesn’t have anything positive to say about you, their reference letter is going to reflect that.

  • Can your reference represent you well?

    A good reference letter can help you land your dream job. However, if it’s written poorly, it may not be impactful enough to help you get the job. Or, if the letter misrepresents you, it may even negatively affect your chances of getting the job.

    A bad reference may be worse than no reference at all. As such, find someone who is willing to put the time and effort into providing a high-quality reference that will shine a light on your positive attributes.

How To Ask Someone To Be Your Reference

Once you’ve made a shortlist of potential references, there are a few things you need to do to ensure the process runs smoothly.

The following are a few essential things to keep in mind when asking someone to be a reference:

Ask As Soon As Possible

The sooner you ask, the better. This allows your potential reference time to consider accepting your request. If they do agree, this also gives them time to write a thoughtful letter. If they’re busy or you don’t give them enough time, they may reject your request simply based on their time constraints. Avoid this, and ask your reference as early as possible.

Give Your Reference Time To Reply

Once you’ve asked someone for a reference, give them time to reply. They may need time to think about it or they may have a lot on their plate. If they don’t reply within a week, you can send them a gentle reminder to follow up.

If they still don’t reply, you may need to find someone else to be your reference. Don’t hassle them about it or you’ll be more likely to get a flat-out rejection – or even worse, an unfavorable reference.

Be Gracious

When you ask someone to be your reference, always be polite. After all, you’re asking them for a favor. Even if they say no, it’s important to thank them for considering your request. This also helps leave the door open should they change their mind in the future.

Make It Easy For Them

Try to provide your reference with everything they might need, including your resume, the job listing, the relevant timeframes, and anything else they may need in order to write a reference letter. The easier you make it for them, the more likely they are to say yes and the better their reference letter will be.

Moreover, when asking someone to be your reference, always keep the lines of communication open. If they have any questions, answer them as best you can. This will make the process easier for both of you.

Send Them A Copy Of Your Resume

When you send your reference a copy of your resume, it gives them an idea as to what the job is that you’re applying for. They may be able to better relate your working experience with the position you’re seeking and write a more effective reference letter. It also shows that you’re taking their time seriously and aren’t just asking them for the sake of it.

Confirm Their Contact Information

If your reference agrees to be involved, make sure you have their correct contact information. This includes their name, title, company name, address, email, and phone number. The last thing you want is a prospective employer to call the wrong number or email the wrong person, after all.

Keep Them Posted On The Job Search

If you’re still looking for a job, keep your reference updated on your progress. This lets them know where you are at in the process and if they should still expect to hear from the hiring company. It also shows that you are appreciative of their time and effort.

Following Up With A Reference

Be sure to follow up with your reference once you’ve started applying for jobs. Give them a timeframe of when they can expect to be contacted by hiring managers. You should also inform them of the outcome, regardless of whether or not you got the job.

Once you’ve landed a job, be sure to thank them for their time and let them know how the job is going. This will help keep the lines of communication open in case you need another reference letter down the track.

References Are An Important Part Of The Job Search

References are an important part of the job search and can make or break your chances of getting hired. Asking someone to be your reference is a big deal. Be sure to do it in a timely manner, and keep them updated on your job progress. By doing so, you’ll increase your chances of getting a reference letter that will help you land the job you want.


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This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.