Applying for jobs involves more than searching for open positions and practicing the answers to common interview questions. In most cases, job hopefuls should craft a professional resume showcasing their experience and skills and collect references from trusted employers and friends. While some online job applications might not ask for a list of references upfront, they may require the information at a later stage during the hiring process.
References can sometimes make or break a candidate’s chances of landing their dream job. This portion of a resume acts as a testament to your professional work ethic and character. Though listing references is relatively easy, prospects should carefully consider who they choose to name.
Below, we’ll explain the different types of references, how to ask someone for a reference, and provide other tips you may find helpful during your search.
Types of References
Employers look for several different types of references on resumes when reviewing applicants. These often include:
- Professional References – These are contacts who know your qualifications and how you work in a professional setting. Former employers, supervisors, and old coworkers can provide this type of reference.
- Personal References – When considering who to use as a personal reference, think about who knows your skill set, work ethic, and overall character best. While hiring managers don’t usually ask for these, you may use them if you lack previous work experience.
- Academic References – For recent college graduates or current students, listing an academic reference can be beneficial. Teachers, professors, and advisors can speak about your academic strengths, as well as your involvement in school-based clubs or activities.
How to Ask for a Reference
Gathering the proper information requires some planning. Here are some tips and tricks on how to ask someone to act as a reference for you.
Be Selective in Choosing Your References
Before applying for a job, consider who you will ask to be a reference. It’s important to pick people who know you well and have worked alongside you, whether at a previous job, at school, or while volunteering. Make sure to avoid listing anyone, such as a social worker or therapist, that might cause potential employers to view you in a less than favorable way.
Additionally, it’s best to skip asking for a reference from family members or close friends. While they can vouch for your personality and morals, they may not be able to speak about you objectively. Choosing someone you’ve met only briefly or who lacks knowledge of your skills may also do more harm than good when applying for work.
Make a Proper Request
Once you’ve narrowed down your list, contact each person to request their permission to use them as a reference. If you have not spoken to someone recently, remind them who you are and how you know one another. Calling or meeting in person to ask leaves a more positive impression, though emailing is acceptable if necessary.
Get in touch with each contact before applying for the position. This gives your former boss, professor, or colleague ample time to consider your request and prepare for any questions the employer may ask.
When deciding how to ask for a job reference, remember to keep it positive. Be sure to frame your question in a way that lets them know that it’s okay to decline. If they turn down your offer or show any hesitation, remember to thank them for their time and move on.
If someone agrees to help, make sure to confirm their contact information. Putting the wrong phone number or email address can prevent the hiring manager from talking to your reference and may come across as intentional dishonesty.
Prepare Your References
Once you have verified the details, advise your reference person on what to expect. Let them know that a hiring manager or employer may be contacting them within the coming weeks to discuss how you would fit in with the company. Provide them with any relevant facts about the position, such as the job title and a brief list of your potential duties.
Another thing to review together is your resume objective statement. This short description gives insight into your professional goals, skills, and desires are. By sharing this, your references can relate the information to their experiences working with or knowing you.
Say Thank You
Finally, make sure to thank those you have asked for their time and help. In addition to vouching for your morals and work ethic, they put their personal and professional reputation on the line by recommending you. Let them know that you will update them on the outcome. You can do this via email, over the phone, or by writing and mailing interview thank you letters.
How to Ask for a Reference Letter
While it’s important to include a well-written cover letter when applying for a job, a reference letter is also helpful to have. You may need both when applying for certain jobs. This is a document that endorses your experience, skills, and character. Professional and academic contacts write them to explain what qualifies a candidate for a position and why a manager should hire the applicant.
A person you ask for a reference letter should know you and your work well enough to give a positive, strong recommendation. Remember not to pressure anyone for their help. A negative or half-hearted message could do more harm than good.
How to List References on a Resume
List each person on your entry-level resume in a neat and organized manner. One suggestion is to format your list in order from the most important contact to the least. For example, start with your professional references, followed by academic and personal ones. Make sure to include the following details:
- First and last name of reference
- Profession/Job title
- Name of company or organization
- Company/Organization’s state and city
- Preferred phone number
- Email address
Sample Reference Page
Here are examples of what your reference page might look like if using the information above:
- Beverly White
WOW News Media Company
New York, NY
- Dr. William Bell
Head of Communications and Broadcasting Department
Lake Houston University
Lake Houston, Texas
(555) 781 – 9137
Sample Reference Request
Below is a sample template for a professional reference request email, as well as a script for asking for a reference over the phone:
Subject Line: Linda Smith – Reference Request
Ms. Tammy Jones,
I am currently applying for a job as a Customer Service Representative at Modern Clothing Inc. and would like to list you as a professional reference. After working together for three years at Clothes R’ Us, I feel as if you can speak to my sales experience as well as my communication and people skills.
Attached is a copy of my resume, as well as the job posting and description, for you to review. Please let me know if you have any questions or need any additional information.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Best, Linda Smith
You: Hello, Tammy, I’m calling today to ask if you would be comfortable providing me with a reference for a job that I am applying to. Is that something you’d consider?
Tammy: Could you please give me more information about this job? I would love to help but could use some more details.
You: Of course! I am applying for a Customer Service Representative position at Modern Clothing Inc. I will be performing some of the same duties as I have during my time working with you at Clothes R’ Us and will be utilizing my communication and people skills. I can send you the positing if you would like to review it a bit more before making a decision.
Tammy: That would be very helpful. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can send the job description and your resume there if you would like. When are you applying for this position?
You: I am planning on applying by the end of this week after I’ve gathered my references.
Tammy: I will let you know soon. Thank you for considering me as a reference. Take care!