How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference for You

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How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference for You

Leaving one job for another means taking a journey you might not be ready for. Whether it's a step up or a necessary lateral move in your career, there's a lot of uncertainty around job transitions.

Even if you find the perfect post and revise your resume into the perfect representation of your skills, you still have to write a cover letter that convinces them you're the best candidate.

Then they need to speak to your references to determine that you're telling the truth and you're a good fit for their company and the job you applied for. Yet how do you go about getting those references?

If you're wondering how to ask someone to be a reference for you, then you've got to check out the tips below.

How to Ask Someone to Be a Reference for You 101: Don't Be Afraid

Anytime you ask for a favor, it can be nerve-wracking. Push aside your discomfort in favor of confidence.

Supervisors and other professional connections can be intimidating, but you have those connections for a reason. Use them with conviction.

One way to give yourself the confidence boost you need is to spend five minutes writing down a list of reasons you deserve the job. Convince yourself first, and you'll be able to convince others that you're qualified and deserving. Impassioned speeches only come from those who believe the words they're saying.

Give Them Lots of Lead Time

If you want someone to speak well of you, be sure you act accordingly. You should give a LinkedIn connection, a previous boss, or anyone else plenty of time to receive your email or phone call and write back.

Build in some buffer time. You need to compose a coherent email, including time to read over it.

Then you need time for them to read it. Remember that some people take time off (especially teachers, when school isn't in session) or don't check emails very often. They also need time to consider their response and then write back.

Some employers want letters of reference, rather than just names and contact info of your references. If you're requesting that your references write letters on your behalf, then you'll also need to give them time to write the letters.

Start recruiting references as soon as you apply for a job and submit your resume so that you can give them plenty of time for communication and composition.

Be Tactful

Remind your reference of how they know you. Do this with tactful, professional wording. Instead of, "Remember me from your Econ 230 class?" say something direct and specific like, "I took your Econ 230 class fall semester of 2019." 

Follow up the reminder with a personal recollection or connection, like, "What we learned about cost comparisons inspired me to look into a career as a business strategist." This section helps you lead into the job you're applying for, serving as a helpful transition and also an explanation for why you chose them as your reference. If you don't have a good reason for choosing them (like they are your only option) then be more vague or avoid this section altogether.

You also need to be tactful when making the ask. Offer them a way out in case they are too busy or don't want to serve as a reference for you.

Explain the Details

When you send your former supervisor a reference request email, be sure to give them all the details they need. Let them know what job you're applying for and why you think you're qualified.

Draw a connection between the tasks you will perform at the new job and the ones you performed when working for them. These are the experiences and skills that you hope they will tell your future employer about.

Ask your references whether they'd prefer to be contacted by phone or email and verify you have their correct contact information. When giving reference contact information, let your future employer know how they prefer to be contacted.

Don't Dictate Their Recommendation

It's not proper etiquette to tell your references what you expect them to say on your behalf. Many people don't want to lie, even as a favor to a friend. You want them to answer questions honestly when asked.

Honest answers do more than help your references feel less guilty. It also sets up proper expectations for your potential employer--they should know what they're getting in an employee, based on the reviews from your references.

References also help employers decide if you're a good fit. If you don't get the job, it could be because it's not the right fit for your skillset and experience, or because someone else was more qualified. It doesn't mean you got a bad reference.

You don't need to give your references a script to stick to. In general, you usually ask people to be a reference for you if you're sure they will speak highly of you, which brings us to the last tip below.

Ask the Right People

Be sure you're asking people to be a reference for you who are prepared to speak well of you and your skills. Someone who knows you well in a professional capacity is a good person to ask. In particular, direct supervisors are the best references because they know the duties you performed and were the ones who evaluated your performance.

It's also appropriate to ask supervisors from volunteer experience. If you don't have volunteer experience or professional experience, then other professional references will suffice. For example, a college teacher or high school teacher counts as professional, as well as coaches or mentors.

Unless requested, it's not usually appropriate to include personal references. These are people like your friends, family members, or team members. 

Landing the Job

Now you no longer have to wonder how to ask someone to be a reference for you. 

Start early and use tact, and you'll be able to craft an email that you're proud of. With the other tips above, you'll be able to confidently request references from previous supervisors or other professional reference connections.

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