How to Ask for (and Receive) a Great Reference

Getting a great reference can mean landing your dream job, snagging an amazing internship, or getting you a few steps closer to where you want to be.

But, they can also be a bit iffy. This is because asking someone to give you a reference means that you’re relying on them to say something good, and, better yet, relevant to your potential employer.

Though you may want it, you will never have complete control over what your reference says about you. But, if you follow the steps I’m about to outline, you can eliminate some (if not all) of the risk. And that’s what you want, right? Right! So, here’s how to ask for and receive a great reference:

1. Always ask for their permission.

You’re probably rolling your eyes at your screen and mouthing the word ‘duh’. I know, I know – it seems like it should be common sense to ask before putting someone down as a reference. But, this doesn’t happen a surprising number of times. Just remember that, even if you’ve worked for the same person for years, you should always give your reference a heads-up before giving out their contact information. Nothing is worse than being thrown under the bus without a warning, and nothing will be worse for you if it’s your reference who’s being caught off guard.

2. Give them information about the position you’re applying for.

You’re going to want your reference to say things that your potential employer will want to hear. So, don’t let your reference go in blind. The best thing that you can do is to give them a brief summary of the position you’re applying for and why you want it.

3. Let them know why you want them to be a reference.

This is a great question that your reference may have but won’t ask you. Why did you choose them? Have they seen you do something that you want them to talk about? The more specific you are, the easier it will be for your reference to see how they can help you.

4. Provide them with points that you want them to highlight.

Chances are that the person who you ask to provide a reference for you will be in an advanced position in your former organization. It’s likely that they’ll have managed other employees besides you, and so they may need a quick reminder about your skills and accomplishments. When you talk to them, be sure to mention 3 key points that you want them to talk about when they get contacted.

My top tip: plan a time to have an in-person conversation with your reference, talk about all of the above, and then follow up with an email that highlights the important details. This will keep the information fresh in their mind, provide them with written details to refer to, and prepare them to give you an awesome reference!

Do you have any other questions about asking for references? Let me know in the comments section!


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