How to ask for a reference that will get you the job

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.

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:

  • Ask a direct supervisor or business mentor.  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.
  • Don’t ask a friend who hasn’t worked with you to be a reference. If you do, you run the risk of harming your credibility.
  • Ask the person before you list them as a reference, and let them know 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.
  • Mention why you’re asking this particular person. 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.
  • 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.
  • Be specific about how you would like to receive the recommendation. Will a potential employer be calling them? Do you need a letter? Or are you looking for a recommendation on your LinkedIn profile?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 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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