How to Ask for References in Your Job Search

Hearing a first-hand account of what you’re like to work with is one of the best ways employers get a sense of who you are and if they’d like to extend a job offer. To get these first-hand accounts, employers will often ask for a list of references that they can call. For some, this means requiring a list of references be provided up front when you submit your resume and cover letter. For others, they may ask for the list of references after you have successfully completed a first or second round interview.  Whenever you may be asked to provide references, you want to be prepared.  Read on for tips to best do so.

1.     Think Ahead.

Your list of references should include 3-5 people who can speak to your work-ethic, professionalism, and quality of work. Brainstorm who may be best-suited to do this for you. Perhaps former or current coworkers, supervisors, mentors, or clients would fit the bill. Steer clear of personal connections such as friends or family members. Although they could most certainly say great things about you, it’s best to include people who can recommend you in a professional context.

2.     Ask Politely.

Now that you’ve got 3-5 individuals in mind, you should reach out to ask for their permission to list them as a reference. Be sure to ask before submitting your application or list of references, just in the off-chance that they don’t actually feel comfortable serving as a reference.  If you haven’t spoken with a potential reference in quite some time, now is the time to catch up. Schedule a phone call or coffee meeting to get back in touch, sharing your recent professional progress and goals.  After you’ve done so, you can then ask your contact if they’d be willing to be a reference for you.

3.     Follow Up.

As you continue through the application and interviewing process, keep your references abreast of your progress. Let them know your status so that they won’t be caught off-guard when the phone rings.  Share with them your thoughts and excitement about the position (and perhaps even the job description), so that they can speak to your skills and enthusiasm as it relates to that particular role. And of course, send a thank you after they’ve served as a reference for you. Let them know how much you appreciate their support in your career development and the role they played in helping you land your new job!


Don’t let the list of references trip you up in your next application or hiring process. What other tips or strategies have you found that work for you when asking for and providing references?