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Asking For References

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How To Ask For a Reference in Person

How you ask is as important as who you ask. You need to be sure the person is willing and able to give you a solid recommendation for the position you seek. You need to ask BEFORE you list someone as a reference so you can ensure they are the best fit.


Here are some tips to help you ask in the most appropriate way:
  • Pick an appropriate time and place to ask. - Pick a time that you can tell they are noticeably relaxed and have time to chat for a minute about the position and your work. Find a private location, in case they feel they cannot provide the recommendation.
  • Ask the right way. - Ask "Do you feel familiar enough with my work to give me a reference?" or "Do you feel you could give me a good reference?". It is good to verify they can write you a GOOD reference.
  • Give them time to write!- As well as asking them at a good time, make sure you give them time to complete the task. Ask for the reference at least 2-3 weeks before it is due.
  • Provide job description and updated resume. - Give them all the information they might need to touch on relevant points. If they don't know what you have done and what you are applying for, how can they recommend you for the job.
Make sure your reference is able to answer these commonly asked questions:
  • What strengths and weaknesses have you identified for _______? Is he/she aware of these strengths/deficiencies?
  • How would you rate the professionalism and integrity of _______? Please give your opinion and cite examples. (fairness, trustworthy, loyal, ethical).
  • How do you think this person would fit into an organization committed to cultural diversity and customer service? Please give an example or explain how.
  • Would you hire this person if you had a similar opening?

How To Ask For a Reference Over Email

Many of the rules for asking for an in person reference apply to asking for an email reference. The main difference here is you want to include information about the job you're applying for in your initial email.

  • The Muse provides a fill in the blanks template that you can follow to write the perfect email.
  • Keep in mind, that if you don't get an enthusiastic reply to your email, you're better off not using this reference.