How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference

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Asking someone to be a professional reference may seem a daunting task, but doing it correctly can relieve some of the stress. Making sure your references are carefully selected, given appropriate time, well-informed and followed through with, and shown appreciation, may encourage them to hit those high notes while singing your praise.

Choose Your References Carefully

The last gauntlet in the hiring process is typically the vetting of references. This obstacle can easily be overcome by carefully selecting the right people. Take a few things into consideration while generating a list of references. You might want to narrow it down to people who:

  • Were your most recent managers, trainers, or supervisors;
  • You have worked with, or alongside most directly;
  • You trust to provide a glowing and honest review;
  • Can speak directly and eloquently of your performance and skills.

It is best to select professional references as opposed to personal ones. Professional references are current or past managers, trainers, supervisors, clients, HR team members, or colleagues — essentially anyone you have worked with.

On the other hand, personal references may be able to speak to your character and abilities. If you are uncertain of what types of references to list, ask for clarification by the potential employer.

It is also helpful to consider choosing references that have the most recent experiences with you. Work aptitudes, ethics, styles, skills, abilities, and personality may change over time. Using the most recent sources will provide the best description of you at the present, making the information they can provide more relevant.

The last thing to consider while generating your list of potential references is the amount you might need. Make a long list and then organize it to highlight who you consider might be the best and most effective. Most employers only ask for three references, but this number may vary greatly, so make sure you have a few extra just in case. It is also helpful to have extra resources on hand in case one of your references becomes unavailable.

Ask Them Politely — and In Advance

Craft your reference ask with appreciation and openness. Use open-ended questions like: “Would you feel comfortable or qualified to act as a reference for me?” rather than: “Will you be a reference for me?” Or: “Can I use you as a reference?” Make sure you provide the opportunity for a person to comfortably and politely decline.

A person acting as a reference is doing you a favor by being available and setting aside time not just to be interviewed, but to prepare for that interview and/or potentially write you a letter of recommendation. If you are asking a person to act as a reference for you that you haven’t worked with in some time, it may be helpful to provide them your resume or remind them of previous work experiences before you ask.

Make sure you provide your references with an appropriate amount of time to write a letter or prepare to be contacted. If they have agreed to be your reference, make sure you notify and ask permission before you share their information and use them on an application. It is also important to remove their information from any public resumes or applications you publish to prohibit sharing their personal information without consent.

Provide All Necessary Context

Set your references up for success by providing them all materials they might need to deliver a glowing review. A good way to provide materials would be a reminder email thanking them again for their help in providing you a reference and including:

  • The resume you used to apply for the job;
  • A link to the job posting;
  • Specific skills, strengths, and qualifications you wish them to highlight;
  • Potential reference questions they may ask.

If there were any circumstances you wish to address; an instance or behavior that reflects poorly on you, how you left the company, a disagreement with a coworker, or a skill you were encouraged to improve, this would be a good time to openly communicate with your reference. Highlight how you are handling these situations with honesty in the interview process, and hope they will do the same while considering you in a positive light. Depending on the experience, a hardship of the past does not necessarily mean that you cannot receive a good reference.

Follow-up Before Employers Do

Once you have moved through the interview process and are aware that your references will be contacted, be sure to give them a heads up. They may want to know which organizations will be contacting them, what type of information they will be requesting, and how they will be in contact. Some references are called, while others are emailed a questionnaire for the company to keep on record. Kindly letting your references know what to expect can empower them to set aside an appropriate amount of time, or a specific time to be available.

Thank Them For Their Time

This is the most gracious and important step of all: thank your references for the time and effort they are putting forward to help you! A quick email of thanks, an update on the status of your potential employment, and recognition for their kindness can go a long way in preserving a positive relationship. After all, you never know when you may need another reference in the future!

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