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How to Ask for a Reference

How to Ask for a Reference

Part of your job application process will include providing references. This may seem like an afterthought in your application process, but a good reference can give you just the edge you need to land a new job. Take the time to get the request right, and don’t take it for granted.

“The reference you provide can make the difference between getting the job or not,” says career coach Jacqueline Twillie. “Spend as much time on your references as you would with your resume.”
Here’s how to ask for a reference.

Assess Your Options Carefully

A person you pick as a reference should be someone who knows enough about your work ethic and how you approach tasks that they can provide helpful information to someone who’s just getting to know you. “This could be a former colleague or supervisor, or even a client you’ve had,” Twillie says. If you’re just starting your career then a teacher, coach or leader in an extracurricular group could serve as a reference.

Avoid picking people with whom you had regular conflict in work situations or who don’t know much about how you work or your achievements, Twillie says. Just because someone was your supervisor at the last job you had doesn’t mean they need to serve as a reference. Family members also shouldn’t serve as references, unless they happened to supervise you in a family business, Twillie says.

Brief Your Reference

Reach out via phone or email and ask if they’d like to serve as your reference. Then give them some context so they can determine whether they’re in a position to help, Twillie says: Provide the name of the company you’re applying to, the position and the work you’d be doing, and a suggestion of how work you’ve done for your reference would apply to your new position.

If you can, give the reference a little information about how your potential employer will contact them. It may be through a phone conversation, but many companies are moving to a 360-degree electronic reference process, Twillie says. This usually involves a 5- to 10-minute questionnaire that your reference will need to fill out. If your interviewer asks for reference contact information, don’t hesitate to ask them what the reference process looks like, so you can prepare your references.

Sustain Your Relationships

Your references represent important relationships in your career, and nurturing those relationships will help you build success as you get new opportunities. Whether you get the job or not, follow up with your reference and thank them for their time, Twillie says. A thank-you card is an appropriate way to show you appreciate their help and support in your job search.

Also, always have several people in mind who could serve as references when you’re looking for a new job. “A lot of companies do reference checks,” Twillie says. “It’s not just something you put on a piece of paper and forget. Employers use them to shed light on whether you’re the right person for that position.”

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