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How to Ask Someone to Be Your Reference

Last updated September 28, 2021

How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference

Whether you are applying for your first job or looking for a new one, at some point in your job search journey, employers will ask you to provide professional references.

What is a professional reference?

Professional references are people in your network who can speak positively about your skills and qualifications for the job you applied to. Think of it as a recommendation or endorsement of your ability to do the job. Though employers typically ask for a list of references after you have gone through the interview process, some hiring managers may ask for your references at any phase of your job search and interview process.

Who should be on your reference list?

Who you choose to put on your reference list will depend on the job you are applying for and how much previous work experience you have.

For first-time job seekers, your teachers, professors, counselors, and coaches are great options for references. If you volunteer regularly with an organization, you can add them to your reference list as well. For job seekers with previous work experience (even if it was a short internship or a summer job), your previous boss, supervisor, or coworker should be on your reference list.

The key to selecting strong references is to make sure you choose people who will speak positively to your skills and ability to do the job.

Can you add family and friends to your reference list?

Yes, but only if you have worked with them in a professional capacity. Hiring managers will not be impressed if your mom says you are great at making your bed every morning. However, if you work for your family’s business on the weekends, It’s okay to use your family as a reference.

How to ask for a reference

Before you list anyone as your reference, make sure you ask them first! One of the biggest mistakes that can cost you the job is putting someone down as a reference and not telling that person in advance. Give your references as much time as possible to prepare so you will receive a strong recommendation. Nothing is worse than your reference being caught off guard by receiving an unexpected phone call or email from a hiring manager asking them to provide a reference on-the-spot.

Here’s what you do when asking someone to be your reference:

  1. Make a list of potential references
  2. Get at least three people to say yes
  3. Provide them with details about the job you applied for
  4. Say thank you
  5. Provide an update

Choose people who can speak positively about how well you work, your accomplishments, and why you would be a great fit for the job.

After you have your list of potential references, reach out and ask (nicely) if they will serve as your reference. If possible, try to call or meet with your references in-person to make the ask - it’s much more personal than initially reaching out via email or text. Be sure to give your references enough time to say yes or to respectfully decline (it happens, not everyone will have the time to serve as your reference when you need them to).

After you have your three references, take the time to inform them of the job(s) you have applied for. Be sure to give them a copy of your resume and cover letter, and provide information about who might reach out to them (if you have that information).

Pro tip: provide this information via email so they can refer to it later

How to send your references to employers

References are typically shared with employers as a list of 3-5 people with the following information:

First and last name, job title and company name, address, phone number, email

Example Reference

Jane Doe

District Manager, Acme Tile Company

123 Main Street


Email address

Say thank you

Being someone’s reference takes time and energy. Be sure to send a thank you note to your references for taking time out of their busy schedules to support your job search.

Need help with your references? We’ve got you! Text “JOBS” to 33-55-77 to chat with a job coach or head to for more resources to help you put your best foot forward.


How to Ask Someone to Be Your Reference

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