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10 simple tips to ask for a reference before a job interview

How do you ask for a reference ahead of your next job interview? Providing references can be one of the more intimidating and awkward parts of job hunting— but it doesn’t have to be.

Unless you’ve burned some major bridges, you should be able to think of several people in your past who would make good references. But how do you ask someone to sing your praises?

Many people skip that step and list references without asking, but that’s a risky idea. The reference may be unprepared or even put off by the request— resulting in a bad reference for you.

How to ask for a reference

Instead of just hoping for the best, follow these steps to ask for a reference professionally and get a glowing one that will help get you hired:

#1: Ask a direct supervisor or business mentor

Ask a reference from immediate supervisor

A good referee is someone you have worked with extensively

The whole business with a business or career referee is to get an insight into the candidate. You. Your personality. Character. Dedication. The kind of tiny yet essential attributes only a person you have worked with will know.

It’s for that reason that only your closest colleague or supervisor should give you that reference. Or a mentor who knows you well.

These are the people in the best position to speak to your qualifications. Depending on the position, you may also want to include a colleague and someone who reported to you.

#2: Do not ask a friend you never worked with

You have that one friend who you trust to always come through for you. You guarantee he will say all the good things about you. But have you worked with him?

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If not, then do not ask him to refer you.

It’s simple really. If you ask them, you run the risk of harming your credibility as a candidate. You may get away with it, but prudence dictates that you be skeptical and assume your would-be employer will confirm your references. Lying on your job application indicates dishonesty that no employer wants to introduce into their ranks.

#3: Ask the person before you list them as a reference

How you ask a reference matters just as much

Curriculum vitae on a table. Image: Unsplash

If you were to talk about your colleague today (right now), will you do a complete job? Will you cover all the good stuff about him or her? How about the areas they need to improve?

Chances are you need a few moments to think about it. Now, your would-be referee also needs to prepare.

If you are applying to a reputable organizations (often thorough with their recruitment), chances are that your referees will be contacted. Let them prepare what to say about you. Let them know in advance.

This lets your would-be referee know that someone may be contacting them. If you don’t notify them beforehand, they won’t be prepared to talk about you, and may even be put off, resulting in a less-than-stellar recommendation.

#4: Mention why you’re asking this particular person

Ask a reference in advance

Explain why you want that particular referee. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

For any position you held in the past, chances are that you worked with several people at each of them. This gives you multiple choices for whom to list as a referee on your CV. It also gives you a choice of whom to use as a referee.

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Make that choice whichever way you believe gives you the best chance to get the next job. And while asking for that reference, let the individual know why you chose them.

People love to receive compliments, so it’s a good idea to mention that you’re asking for their recommendation in particular because you respect them as a supervisor, because of their work experience, or because of their good standing in your field.

#5: Specify the position you are applying to

Remember that a reference is a recommendation. And that no professional will recommend you for a job they don’t know if you can do.

Therefore, let your would-be referee know whatever job they are referring you to. Do not mislead them, or leave out details they will find useful. Because this won’t be the last time you need a referee, will it?

Therefore, make the point to explain the position you’re applying for and why you feel you would be a good fit. This allows the person to tailor their recommendation to the particular situation.

#6: How do you want to receive the recommendation?

You can now be referred in many different ways

Be clear on how you want to be referred. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

A referee can recommend you in so many different ways, which one works for you? If you will be happy with a reference letter, let them know in time. Or maybe you want them to recommend you on an online job application website, such as LinkedIn or Fuzu. Also make it clear, and offer directions as to how to do this.

There is also the good old references section of your CV. If this is how you want to be recommended, make it clear that your potential employer may be calling your referee?

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Whichever way you want your reference, it is much easier if you guide the referee on how to give it. Also remember that your referee is most likely short on time, and so you need to give clear directions where necessary.

#7: Help them refer you

If you’re requesting a written recommendation, provide a template, bullet points, or even a rough draft for the person. This helps them understand what you need, and also relieves much of the burden of drafting the recommendation.

#8: Use the opportunity to outline your best qualities

Either in your template or while speaking in person, use the opportunity to remind the person of your best qualities and accomplishments. Bringing them top of mind will help your referrer remember to use them in their recommendation.

#9: Institute a “no questions asked” policy.

Tell the person upfront that if they feel uncomfortable for any reason, you completely understand. This gives them an “out” and lets them know they can be honest.

While this reduces the pressure on your soon-to-be referee, you also benefit by not appearing desperate to be referred by the person in question.

#10: Follow up with effusive thanks for the person’s time.

If you can, send a handwritten thank you card for that extra touch. If you were very close to the referee, a phone call would be best in this case as it is more personal than a note or text message.

Now, go get that reference

If you follow these suggestions, you should end up with the kind of reference that will help you land any job — and cement your relationship with the referrer so that they will always be willing to help you out in the future.

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