How To Ask For a Reference: 9 Right Ways To Ask

To help you with finding the right person to be a reference, we asked business leaders and HR professionals this question for their best tips

What’s the right way to ask someone to be a reference?

To help you with finding the right person to be a reference, we asked business leaders and HR professionals this question for their best tips. From starting early to giving your reference all of the right information, there are several tips that may help you ask someone to be a reference in the future.

Here are nine right ways to ask someone to be a reference:

  • Quid Pro Quo Approach
  • Ask the Right Person
  • Start Early
  • Be Direct and Clear
  • Make it Genuine
  • Ensure They Have Ample Time to Write It
  • Let It Come Organically
  • Make Sure There is a Personal Connection
  • Give Your Reference All the Right Information

Quid Pro Quo Approach

With the advancement of technology, asking for a reference has never seen so easy! In fact, LinkedIn even has “Recommendations” built into its platform. The best way to authentically get a reference is by providing them with one as well. Oftentimes, they will appreciate the fact that you took the time to do so and will write one in response without you even asking. When in doubt, always opt for the quid pro quo approach.

Denise Gredler, BestCompaniesTexas

Ask the Right Person

Before asking someone to be a reference, ensure that both of you have a solid working relationship. The most awkward thing you can do is ask someone to vouch for your skills when they don’t find you to be highly skilled in your craft! Regardless of whether this individual is a family member, friend, or colleague, you should approach this request with the highest level of professionalism.

Vanessa Molica, The Lash Professional

Start Early

When asking someone to be a reference, it is important to do so before you start applying to companies! The hiring process can evolve quickly, and the last thing you want to do is wait until the last minute. I would highly consider asking your top candidates for letters of recommendation as soon as you’ve made the decision to start your job search.

Jeanne Kolpek, Cadence Education

Be Direct and Clear

Asking someone for a reference may feel awkward and intimidating, but it’s much better to get to the point when asking someone to be a reference rather than beating around the bush. Simply ask, “Would you mind being a reference for me? I am applying for X position at Y company and they will be inquiring about my leadership and management skills.” Being direct and clear leaves no room for questions or for someone to be caught off guard when the recruiter actually calls.

Kenna Hamm, Texas Adoption Center

Make it Genuine

The biggest blunder a job seeker can make is not checking with references before asking them first. Most people are happy to be listed as a reference and will talk with a recruiter about you willingly, but they need to be notified. The best way to ask someone to be a reference is to make it authentic. Don’t just shoot them an email and call it day. Offer to take them out for lunch or coffee, catch up, and ask for them to be a reference in conversation. This will go such a long way!

Chris Dunkin, Portable Air

Ensure They Have Ample Time to Write It

Some will argue that the right way to ask for a reference is to do so in person or over the phone, or some even suggest doing it through email so the request doesn’t get lost or forgotten about. I believe that there is no right way to ask for a reference, but there is a right time. Ask someone to be a reference as soon as possible! Don’t procrastinate or only give them a day’s notice. You want your reference to feel prepared and not taken off guard, so let them know as soon as you list their contact information.

Jon Schneider, Recruiterie

Let It Come Organically

Yes, I realize that some references are time-sensitive in conjunction with a job search or application. But, the best way to get a reference is when people are singing your praises. For example, when a manager gushes about you in a monthly review, or when a company bestows an “employee of the month” award – those are key moments when asking for a recommendation comes organically. By following the momentum, you are actually providing people a way to “show” their appreciation in a meaningful way. Be prepared to ask for a reference at all times – not just when you need one.

Brett Farmiloe, Markitors

Make Sure There is a Personal Connection

Asking someone to be a reference really means you want them to champion for you. When you hesitate to ask for a reference, usually the personal connection is what you are missing. Make sure the person feels they know you well enough. Do your research and invite them out for a coffee. Make it worth their while by investing upfront in the connection with solid preparation. A connection built today could be your reference in a month. After a week of asking people for a coffee, you will have plenty of people to ask for a reference.

Wesley Burger, CloudTask

Give Your Reference All the Right Information

I have appreciated these types of requests when people have told me why they have asked me to be a reference and what they want me to address on their behalf. For example, they might say, “You were my former supervisor, so I thought you could best speak to my work performance and ability to work effectively with others.” This is very helpful for me to know, as I can tailor the reference to what they feel will be of the most benefit in the information I provide. What you do not want to do is list someone as a reference without having contacted them and asked beforehand. This has happened to me, and since I don’t know about the job or what the individual is seeking now, it’s a missed opportunity for the very best reference.

Colleen McManus, Senior HR Executive and Consultant

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