How To Ask For A Reference (With Tips And Sample Email)

Updated 2 June 2023

As many employers rely on recommendations to assess a candidate's suitability for a role, asking for a reference can help you secure a job. Knowing how to request a reference can help you get the best possible endorsements from your professional network. Understanding the appropriate approach to ask for a reference can make the process smoother and increase your chances of receiving a strong recommendation. In this article, we discuss how to ask for a reference, list tips on making the request and provide two sample emails to help you draft your own.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.

How To Ask For A Reference For A Job?

When you ask for a reference, approach the process carefully and professionally. The following are some steps to consider when requesting a reference:

1. Choose the best references

Identify referees who may speak positively about your work, skills and character. It is best to choose supervisors, colleagues or professors you have a strong relationship with and who have personally observed your performance. For example, an excellent referee would be a manager who you worked on a successful project with, as they can confirm your problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills. Ensure that your referee is familiar with your work and can provide a detailed, and favourable account of it.

Related: What Are References? (Types, Benefits And Examples)

2. Prepare your reference list

Create a document listing your referees' names, job titles, companies, phone numbers and email addresses. Make sure their contact information is up to date. Include a brief description of your relationship with each person and when you worked together. For example, you might write: Supervisor at CKD Company from January 2020 to December 2021.

Having this information makes it easier for you to share it with potential employers when they request it.

Related: What Does Checking References Involve? (Plus Helpful Tips)

3. Request permission to list them as a referee

Contact your chosen referees via email or phone and politely ask if they are willing to provide a reference for you. For example, you could say: I am applying for a marketing manager position at RedWater Marketing Company. Your perspective on my work in our previous marketing campaign would be valuable to the hiring manager. Would you be comfortable serving as a referee for me?

Give them enough time to consider your request and respond, as they may require a few days to check their schedules and commitments.

Related: What Is A Reference Letter? (With Tips And Example)

4. Provide them with relevant information

Once your referee has agreed to help you, provide them with the necessary details about the job opportunity. Send them the job description and your resume, and mention anything specific you would like them to emphasise, such as your leadership skills or experience with a particular software program. For example, you may write: The position requires strong project management skills, and I believe our work on the website redesign project would be a great example of my abilities in this area.

This can help them customise their recommendation to the position to make it more impactful.

Related: How To Write A Recommendation Letter (With Examples)

5. Keep them up to date

Keep in contact with your referee throughout the job application process. Inform them of when you have submitted your application, when you have scheduled an interview and when you have received a job offer. For example, you may send a brief email that says: I wanted to let you know that I have an interview with KMST Technology next week. Thank you again for agreeing to be a referee for me.

Keeping them up to date shows your appreciation for their support and allows them to anticipate when the hiring manager might contact them.

6. Show your gratitude

Regardless of the outcome of your job application, thank your referee for their support. Send a personalised email or handwritten note expressing your appreciation. For example, you may write: I appreciate the time and effort you put into providing a reference for me. Your kind words and endorsement have been invaluable in my job search.

This allows you to maintain a positive relationship and demonstrate your professionalism.

Related: How To Write An Appreciation Email (With Tips And Examples)

7. Return the favour

If appropriate, offer to reciprocate by serving as a referee for your contact. For example, you may write: If you ever require a reference or any support in your career endeavours, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be more than happy to help.

This strengthens your professional network and demonstrates your willingness to support others in their career endeavours.

Tips On Asking For A Reference

When requesting a reference, approach the process thoughtfully to ensure a positive response and a strong recommendation. The following are tips to help you request a reference:

  • Build strong relationships. Establish and maintain positive relationships with your colleagues, supervisors and professors while working or studying. This allows you to request a reference from them in the future.

  • Be specific about your accomplishments. When discussing your job application with your referee, mention specific accomplishments or projects you have worked on together. This can help them recall your work and provide a more detailed reference.

  • Ask them in person. While email and phone are acceptable methods of communication, request for a reference in person if possible, as this can be more impactful. It allows you to make a more personal connection and demonstrates your sincerity.

  • Choose an appropriate time to ask. Be mindful of your potential referee's schedule. Avoid asking them during busy periods and give them enough time to consider your request, and prepare their recommendation.

  • Provide them with an easy way to decline. Clarify that you understand if they cannot serve as a referee. This shows respect for their time and allows them to opt-out if they do not feel comfortable or do not have the time.

  • Offer a template or outline. If your referee is unsure what to include in their recommendation, provide them with a template or outline highlighting key areas to cover. This makes it easier for them to structure their thoughts and offer a more focused reference.

  • Follow up politely. If you do not receive a response from your potential referee after a reasonable time, send them a gentle reminder. They may have forgotten or missed your request.

Related: How To Write A Follow Up Email (With Template And Example)

Asking For A Reference Email Example

The following are two examples of how to ask for a reference in different situations:

Requesting a reference from a former supervisor

The following is an example email for someone who completed an internship at a marketing firm six months ago:

Subject: Reference request for Atithi Das

Dear Mr Manoj Sharma,

I hope this email finds you well. It has been six months since I completed my internship at Techclux, and I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated the opportunity to work under your guidance. The skills and experience I gained during my time there have been invaluable.

I am currently applying for a full-time position as a marketing associate at Devovo Inc. Your perspective on my performance during the internship would be a valuable addition to my application. Would you be comfortable providing a reference for me for this position?

If so, I can provide more information about the job and any specific points you might want to emphasise. I completely understand if you cannot serve as a referee now. Please let me know at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for considering my request, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Best regards,

Atithi Das

Related: How To Request And Write An Internship Recommendation Letter

Requesting a reference from a college professor

The following is a sample email from a professor for a recent graduate applying for a research assistant position at a prestigious institution:

Subject: Reference request for Sanjay Karmakar – research assistant position

Dear Professor Mukherjee,

I hope you are well. As you may know, I recently graduated from Eduro National University, and I am now looking to start my research career. I came across a research assistant position at Futuro Co. that aligns with my interests and qualifications.

Given our successful collaboration on the research project during my final year, I believe your insight into my research abilities and dedication would enhance my application. Would you be willing to provide a reference for me for this position?

If so, I would be happy to provide you with more information about the position and any specific details you may require for the recommendation. I understand if you have other commitments or cannot serve as a referee at this time. I appreciate your consideration.

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Sanjay Karmakar

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