When you’re applying for a job, a hiring manager may want you to submit references from previous employers or co-workers.
Even if it’s not required, having a reference can make an impact — in fact, up to 87% of employers check references during the hiring process.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics. We’ll show you what a reference is and how to ask for one, and we’ll also give you templates to get you started.
What is a reference?
A reference is someone who can vouch for your skills and character. There are two types of references: personal and professional.
Personal references, also called character references, are people you know personally that are willing to speak about your character and skills. These aren’t considered as reliable as professional references and should be used sparingly.
Professional references are people you’ve worked with before that know your skills as a worker. These include former bosses, clients, colleagues, teachers, supervisors, or any other type of workplace contact.
References can vouch for you over the phone or through email or, in some cases, draft a recommendation letter for you to send to a potential employer or academic institution.
When do you need a reference?
Job references are helpful when applying for new jobs, academic programs, internships, and apprenticeships.
While a reference might not always be required on a job application, going the extra mile to provide them can increase your chances of getting the job.
How to ask for a reference
Here are some best practices you should follow when asking for a reference:
Make sure they have enough time to respond. Don’t ask someone to provide a reference the day you ask. If possible, give a week's notice.
Let them say no. Give them an out by letting them know that if they think it’s been too long or if they are uncomfortable, there will be no hard feelings.
Describe the new job for them in detail. You can send them the job listing or summarize it yourself.
Send them your updated resume. If you haven’t worked together in a while, you may have new skills they don’t know about.
You shouldn’t need to convince someone to give you a reference. If they’re at all uncomfortable, let it go and find someone more enthusiastic.
Examples of how to ask for a reference
It’s usually best to ask for potential references in person, but that’s not always possible. Let’s walk through some tips and tricks in five different settings.
1. How to ask for a reference over the phone
If you’re asking over the phone, you can start by chatting and catching up. After a few minutes, ask if they’d be willing to be a reference for you.
Template: “The reason I’ve called you today is I want to ask if you’d be comfortable acting as a reference for me. I’m applying for a new position with [COMPANY NAME] as a [JOB TITLE]. Since we worked together at [COMPANY NAME] on [PROJECT DESCRIPTION], I thought you’d be a great person for them to talk with.”
If there’s any hesitation, let them back out. If they agree, give them more details and provide them with frequent updates about the process.
2. How to ask for a reference letter
If you’re applying for several jobs at once and don’t want to burden your contact with several reference phone calls, you can ask them to provide a reference letter to attach to each application.
Template: “I want to ask if you’d be comfortable writing a reference letter for me. I’m applying to several different companies to find a job as a [JOB TITLE]. Since we worked together at [COMPANY NAME] on [PROJECT DESCRIPTION], I thought you might be a good person to ask. I’m applying to many places, so a reference letter would spare you potentially several different calls.”
If your contact agrees, you can go above and beyond by offering to write a first draft for them.
3. How to ask for a reference by email
If you don’t have a phone number, you can send an email. Here’s an email template to request a reference for a housekeeping position.
Subject: Reference Request
Hi [REFERENCE NAME],
Would you feel comfortable acting as a reference for me? I’m applying for a housekeeping position with a local hotel, and since we’ve worked together in the hospitality industry in the past, I thought you could be a good fit.
I’ve attached my updated resume and the job description for the role. I know it’s been a while since we’ve worked together, so no hard feelings if you’re not comfortable.
Could you let me know by Friday?
This example is a request for a reference from someone looking to change career paths by applying for a public relations position.
Subject: Reference Request
Hi [REFERENCE NAME],
I’m taking a different path in my career and applying for a public relations position with [COMPANY NAME]. Since we’ve worked together closely in the past, I thought you could speak to my work ethic and character.
My updated resume and the job description for the role are attached. I know that the requirements for this role are different from the work we did together, so if you’re uncomfortable, there are no hard feelings.
4. How to ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn
You can send a contact a direct message on LinkedIn to ask for a reference if you don’t have their email or phone number.
Template: “I’m reaching out to see if you’d be comfortable acting as a reference for me. I’m applying for a [JOB TITLE] position with [COMPANY NAME]. If you’re up for it, you can reach me at [EMAIL] or [PHONE NUMBER]. My profile is up to date with my latest work experience, and here’s the job description [LINK]. I hope to hear from you soon!”
You can also ask contacts to publicly post a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile. Before you ask, you can write one for them first.
Here are some examples:
After you’ve written your recommendation, ask for one in return through a direct message.
Template: “I’ve just submitted a LinkedIn recommendation for you to add to your profile — I’ve always enjoyed working with you! I was wondering if you’d be open to posting one on my profile as well? I’ve drafted an example below to make it quick and easy. Hope to hear from you soon!
5. How to ask for a recommendation on Facebook
Facebook isn’t the best place to ask for a professional reference but can be a good place to ask for a personal reference. If you do choose to ask on Facebook, keep it short and sweet.
Template: “Hi! I hope you’re well. I’m reaching out to ask if you’d be willing to be a reference for me? I’m applying for [JOB TITLE] at [COMPANY]. If you’re up for it, could you send me your contact information? I’ll send over the details.”
Reach out to Jobcase’s community for more advice on references and job hunting
Recommendations can make the difference between you landing a new job and your resume ending up at the bottom of the pile.
If you’re on a job search, check out Jobcase. Our community of like-minded professionals is there to help you land your next job. Build your profile today.