Job Searching Networking and Career Advice

How to Ask Someone to be a Reference + Email Templates

Marcie Wilmot

Certified Resume Writer, Career Coach, Business Writer

One part of the job-hunting process that frequently gets overlooked is putting together a list of good references. Most of the time we focus on creating the perfect resume, writing an awesome cover letter, and getting our hands on letters of recommendation. We think about what outfit we’ll wear to the job interview, how we’ll answer those tricky questions, and what our career plan looks like. But, in fact, having multiple references lined up who will speak favorably about you to a potential employer is critical to landing a job. This aspect of job searching really can’t be ignored. 

So read on to learn more about how to ask someone to be a reference. Getting this right is important. If no one is willing to gush about how smart, personable, and skilled you are, then there’s a very real possibility that you’ll lose out on the job of your dreams.

What Exactly is a Reference on the Resume?

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a reference anyway? Definitely not some random acquaintance you met on the street last week. Instead, references are

People you’ve known for quite some time who you trust to back up your professional skill set, achievements, and work ethic.

Job Searcher’s Career Experts

There are two different types of references: personal and professional. A personal reference is someone who can attest to your good character. They are generally someone you know outside of work, like a friend, coach, religious leader, professor, or neighbor. 

A professional reference, on the other hand, is a person you know through work, such as a supervisor or colleague. This type of reference usually carries more weight because they can speak to your work-related skills and abilities (like being an effective leader or team player). They can also answer questions about your job performance, which matters a lot to potential employers. 

It’s Important That You Reach Out to the Correct Prospects

It’s crucial that you choose your references very carefully. If you don’t, you risk losing out on a job offer, no kidding. Employers will move on very quickly if they sense any red flags when they talk to the references you’ve given them. 

Reference checks on notecard

So you want to select people who will both speak highly of your character, qualifications, and abilities AND make themselves available to speak to the employer in a timely fashion (believe it or not, this is important – it won’t reflect well on you if the employer has to chase down your references to talk to them). Although you can probably count on friends to pull through, an employer won’t consider their referral as meaningful as a referral from a professional reference.

So when you create your list of references, only put people on there who will give you glowing reviews and will be available, as needed, to talk to the employer. Lastly, be strategic. Pick the best possible professional and high-caliber person you know who will fulfill both of these requirements for you. Remember, their words can make or break your job opportunity. 

How To Ask Someone to Be a Reference?

Reference in a busy work background

It can be a little stressful to ask someone to be a reference, but there are steps you can take to help ensure it’s not an awkward interaction, even if they turn you down. Even if they do turn you down, take it as a sign that they weren’t meant to be anyway. After all, it’s better they say no than yes and then talk negatively about you to a potential employer, right? The suggestions below will make the whole process of asking someone to be your reference much easier.

Notify Them in Advance; Give Them Time

Don’t wait until an employer is asking for a list of your references to start digging through your network. This should be done in advance to reduce stress and allow your references proper time to prepare. So, as you start to put together your resume and write your cover letter(s), be sure to also begin brainstorming and reaching out to potential references.

Ask Nicely

This seems like an obvious tip, but it’s imperative. Recognize that your references will have to go out of their way to help you in this fashion. They’ll have to make themselves available whenever the employer wants to talk to them, and there will be some pressure on them to say the right things so they don’t mess up this opportunity for you. In addition, they’ll have to think through what they know about you and plan to say. So, be nice when you ask for their help! Remember to say please and thank you and to tell them how grateful you are for their assistance.   

Provide Them With Context & Other Necessary Information

When you approach someone to ask for a referral, give them some insight into what’s been happening and what you’re trying to accomplish. Tell them about the jobs you’ve been applying to so they can anticipate what type of employer might contact them. It’s also a great idea to provide them with a copy of your resume so they can brush up on your background and skills. Armed with this information, they’ll be much better prepared to speak about you and to hit all the points you want them to emphasize.

Make Sure Your Email is Well Written & Spelling Error Free

While you can choose to ask someone in person, over the phone, or via mail, email is a great method because it makes it easier for them to decline if they wish to do so (in other words, it’s less awkward since it’s written and less direct). It’s also quicker than mail. While hopefully they won’t decline, sometimes this does happen. If it does, don’t get discouraged – just go back to the drawing board and find someone else to ask. 

Prior to sending your email, have someone you trust look it over or at least double check it yourself. Make sure it’s well written and without any errors so you come across as professional and serious about your request. Also, use a clear subject like “Your Name – Reference Request.”

Give Them Updates

It’s thoughtful on your part to provide occasional updates to your references so they know how your job search is going and if they should expect a phone call from an employer in the near future. Don’t go overboard, but keep them in the loop periodically, especially if your job hunt goes on for a long time. Ultimately this, reminds them of their role in your success and shows appreciation for what they’re doing for you.

Say Thank You

Given that your references will spend time and energy on your request, it’s a nice touch to thank them afterwards. Whether or not you get the job, send them a personalized thank you note. Not only is this courteous and gracious, it also keeps the relationship on good terms in case you need to use them as a reference again in the future.

Asking for a Reference Email Templates

If you’re struggling to compose an email to ask someone to be your reference, don’t worry! Below is an example and a template you can use for inspiration.

SUBJECT LINE: Reference for Ashton Zimmer

Dear Ms. Rogers,

I am reaching out to ask you to provide me a reference for a new opportunity I am seeking with CBI Industries. Of course, I completely understand if you are unable to commit to this. Please just let me know as soon as possible.

I learned a lot about the industry while working for you at Acme Corporation, and I think you would be able to provide the kind of insight into my skills that would increase my chances of landing this new position. As you know, I have recently been employed at VBN Industries, heading their research and development division. The opportunity at CBI Industries is related but would also require many of the sales and marketing techniques I developed while working for you.

Thank you very much for considering my request. I have attached a copy of my updated resume and the job posting for your review. Gary Smith from Human Resources will be the contact person at CBI who will be in touch if you agree to provide the reference for me.

If you have any questions or need any further information, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Best Regards,

Ashton Zimmer
(555) 234-5678

Reference Email Example From TheBalanceCareers.

EMAIL SUBJECT LINE: Reference for [Your Name]

Dear Mr./Ms./Prof. [Reference's Last Name] (If you are writing to a colleague, you can use "Hi [Name]")

I am reaching out to you because I am applying for a new position as [type of role] with [company name]. Part of the application process is to provide letters of recommendation and I would greatly appreciate it if you could write a letter of recommendation for me.

I enjoyed our time working together at [company name] and I learned a lot from you when we collaborated on [project]. With this in mind, I think you would be a great person to vouch for my skills in [key skill area]. I'm currently working as [type of role] and this new job is closely related but will require the [key skills] I developed while working with you.

I will attach my current resume and the job ad to this email for you to review and if you have any other questions, I will be happy to answer them. The deadline for submitting the letter is [date]. I know you are busy, so if this is too soon, I completely understand. Please let me know as soon as possible if you are comfortable writing a letter like this for me.


[Your Name]

Reference Email Template from BetterTeam


  • How do you ask someone to be a reference via text? It’s not recommended that you ask someone to be a reference through text. Text would likely be considered the most unprofessional option. Instead, email is the preferred method, followed by in person, over the phone, and lastly, mail.
  • How do you ask someone to be a reference via email? Use the above templates to create a well-written, error-free email that politely makes your request. Ask well in advance and use a friendly, appreciative tone of voice. Also, make sure to provide context and a copy of your resume.
  • Can you put someone as a reference without asking? While you can do this, it is not at all advisable. For one, then your reference won’t have time to prepare and will probably fumble as they talk about you. Second, assuming someone will speak positively about you is a mistake – you need to ask their permission and gauge their current opinion of you! Lastly, you need a reference that will pick up the phone. If your reference doesn’t know they’re a reference, then the hiring manager may never speak to them.
  • Can you have a friend as a reference? You can put a friend as a reference. However, keep in mind that employers value professional references like former managers and colleagues much more than friends. While a personal reference like a friend can speak to your character, a professional reference can provide information about your job performance and work-related skills.
  • What is an example of a personal reference? Examples of personal references include friends, professors, religious leaders, coaches, and neighbors. These are people that you have little to no professional or work experience with.

Bottom Line

It’s not always easy to figure out who you should use as references or to request their assistance, but this part of the job-searching process matters a lot. Employers will very easily nix a candidate if their references don’t check out. Follow the steps in this article so you can compile a strong list of references and land the job of your dreams!

If you have your references, resumes, and cover letter ready to go, then check out some of the newest jobs on Job Searcher.

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