How To

How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference

Arran Stewart

Arran Stewart

Arran James Stewart is the co-founder and CVO of blockchain recruitment …


Would you like to know how to ask someone to be a reference when applying for a job?

Most employers want references on your application so they can gain additional insight into whether you’re qualified for the position.

This is different from obtaining a letter of recommendation , where a third party provides a formal write-up about you and your positive qualities.

Asking someone for a reference means your interviewing employer will reach out to the reference via phone. This gives a hiring manager the ability to talk with someone who can vouch for you on a personal and professional level.

What follows is everything you need to know when you want to ask for a reference.

Select Your References Wisely

Choose the correct people to provide references for you. Think about everyone you’ve worked with in the past and identify those who will give you a solid recommendation. Do this immediately, so you and your references aren’t caught off guard. Some employers wait to ask for references after an initial interview, but others want them on your initial application.

Avoid any former associates with who you didn’t get along with. Were you fired at a past job? If so, then your firing manager is the last person you want talking on your behalf. The same goes for any past managers who may have provided negative feedback about you.

You’re in complete control. Select only those who you think will speak highly of you when asked about your professional qualifications, character, work ethic, and past accomplishments.

Here are some ideas for references:

  • Former coworkers
  • Former supervisors
  • Industry colleagues
  • Former employees
  • Instructors or mentors
  • Solid connections from groups or associations

It’s a good idea to find associates you’ve worked with more recently. However, if your top reference might come from someone you worked with a couple of years ago, that’s fine. At the end of the day, you want to list references you feel will provide the best feedback about you. Take out a piece of paper and make a master list. Write down everyone you can remember. Then, go back through the list again and narrow your choices based on the position you’re applying for and your relationship with each reference.

Employers usually ask for two to three references. Narrow your top choices to five, just in case you need more than three.

Ask for References Ahead of Time

Get in contact with your references before putting their names and contact information on the application.

You don’t want to surprise references when the hiring manager calls them unexpectedly. If a reference isn’t expecting the call, they might feel caught off guard. The result is often an awkward call between your reference and the person deciding to hire you or not.

You’re asking for a significant favor in this scenario. It’s essential to reach out and notify references in advance.

How Do You Politely Ask Someone to Be a Reference?

You can ask someone to be a reference over the phone or via email.

Most people have no problems taking a call from your prospective employer and vouching for you. One key aspect of doing this successfully is to ask ahead of time. A second important part is something you already handled: making your list based on who you think makes the best fit.

If you selected people with who you have a solid business relationship, then the process of asking shouldn’t feel awkward.

Always give your references the ability to decline. You can do this by using this type of language:

  • “Are you comfortable being my reference?”
  • “If it isn’t possible at this time, I completely understand.”

Don’t try to force it on anyone who seems uncomfortable moving forward with the process. Simply thank them for their time, let them know that you understand, and move on to your next person. This will keep your long-term relationships intact.

Provide Details About Your Job Opportunity

Give your references details about the company you’re interviewing for, the nature of your position, and anything you want them to specifically touch on during their reference call.

Make your references more comfortable by helping them go into the process feeling like they have some control over what to say. You can email them the job description with a few bullet points of how your skills match the position. They can fill in the rest based on their knowledge about you.

Follow up to Say Thank You

This is similar to the process for sending a thank you note after your interview process . Reach out immediately after they’ve finished the reference call. Use a thoughtful email and simply thank them for their time. Let them know how much you appreciate their help.

Send them a second short note if you get the job and tell them again that you’re grateful.

How Do You Ask Someone to be a Reference Via Email?

How do you ask someone to be a reference? Simply use this template we’ve provided below.

Subject line: Reference request by [your name]

Dear [their name],

[Use a good opening “anchor” here, where you open up with something personal and relatable]

Example opening #1: I hope life is treating you well. How are your two boys doing?

Example opening #2: I hope everything is great on your end. It was fantastic seeing you at the Chamber of Commerce meeting last week.

I’m currently interviewing for a new position [position at XYZ company], and I’d like to know if you’d consider providing a reference for me. With our work experience together at [previous company], I think you can improve my opportunities for landing this new job based on how much you know about my skills and personality.

I’ve attached my resume for you. Please let me know if you might need anything else to feel comfortable acting as my reference.

By the way, if this isn’t a good time for you, simply let me know. I appreciate you at least considering my request.

Thanks so much,


[phone number]