Sample Letters and Email Messages Asking for a Reference

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If you're applying for a job, it's likely you'll need a reference. It's a good idea to get references lined up before you start a job search. That way you'll have a list of people who can recommend you ready to share with prospective employers. You can ask for a reference with a phone call, or an email or a hard-copy letter, but either way, you'll want to write your request carefully. 

Here are tips on how to ask for a reference, as well as sample letters that you can use as a guideline while writing your own reference request.

 

Choose Your References Wisely

The person giving you a reference may need to write a letter, fill out a questionnaire, respond to an email, or speak to someone from human resources on the phone. If the person doesn't know you well, it'll show. Choose someone who thinks highly of you, and can speak fluently about your career and talents. It's important to make sure that the individual who is recommending you for employment can give you not just a reference, but a good reference. Here are tips for choosing the best person to provide a job reference

Always Give the Person You're Asking an Out

Make sure to give the person an easy way to decline providing you with a reference. A bad reference can be the difference between you getting a job offer— or not. It would be preferable to have the person decline to provide a reference, rather than write a halfhearted or negative letter.

In your reference request, you can say things like "I know end-of-the-year evaluations are due soon, so if you're too busy to provide a reference, I completely understand" or "It's been five years since we worked together, so if you don't feel comfortable speaking to someone about my work habits after so long, please just let me know." 

Give Your Reference a Heads-Up

 Do not give out anyone's name as a reference without their permission and without knowing what they are going to say about you. The individual who is giving you a reference needs to know ahead of time that they may be contacted regarding a reference for you. Once you have permission, let your reference providers know when you share their names with prospective employers.

 

Ask Nicely

Former co-workers and managers are under no obligation to serve as a reference. You are asking for a favor, so be polite and warm in your request. You can also mention why you thought the person would be an ideal reference. 

How to Ask for a Reference Letter

References can be requested in writing or by email. If there are forms the recommender needs to complete, you may want to send an email message asking for the recommendation, then follow up with a written letter and the forms.

In your letter requesting a reference, it can be helpful to provide the potential recommender with background information, including your current resume and a link to the job description (or a short summary). You can also briefly mention specific qualities and skills of yours that you would like your reference to mention.  If you have any information about how the company will be reaching out to the recommender — phone, email, etc. — you can include those details as well. 

It's a good idea to review sample letters asking for a reference to get ideas for your own letters. These samples, both written and email, include the best ways to phrase your request and how to ask someone to be your reference.

Thank Your Reference Writer

When you get a new job, don't forget to send a thank you note to the individuals who provided you with a reference.

Not only will it let your reference giver know that they have helped you. It will also let them know how much you appreciated the job search help.

Letter Samples Requesting a Reference