Select and Contact Your References

Learn who and how to ask

Male friends talking while sitting in living room

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

Before even applying to any jobs, it is important to have a list of employment references ready so you will be able to hand it to a hiring manager when they ask for it.

Typically, employers ask for the list of references after an initial interview, although some will ask for references along with all the other initial job application materials.

Get References Ready Before You Need Them

The advantage of asking now is that you do not have to scramble to get references when an employer asks for them. Asking someone to be a reference (especially asking for a written reference letter) at the last minute is not only stressful for you, but can put a lot of pressure on the person you are asking. Getting your list ready ahead of time will save everyone a lot of stress later on.

Think of Who to Ask

You should have 3 - 5 names on your reference list. Make a list of former bosses, co-workers, colleagues, vendors, or customers who know your skills and attributes. If you are in college or graduate school (or if you are a recent graduate), include professors with whom you have worked closely.

If you are new to the workforce, or have not worked in a few years, you can also ask someone for a character or personal reference. This can be written by a neighbor or acquaintance who may not have worked with you professionally, but who can attest to your skills and attributes.

From this list, select 3 - 5 people who fit the following criteria:

  • You believe they know enough about your work ethic to give you a recommendation
  • You think they will give you a positive reference. If you had negative interactions with this person in the past, or if you think they have any reservations about you, do not list them as a reference.
  • You should feel comfortable that they will be professional in their comments to any potential employers. If someone thinks very highly of you, but often comes across as unprofessional or rude, you might want to consider another reference.
  • They are easy to get in touch with. It is a definite put-off when a hiring manager cannot reach one of your references. Consider skipping over potential references who are currently traveling, or who are not good at responding promptly to emails and phone calls.

How to Ask

Before listing these 3 - 5 people as references, you need to get their permission. Send them a letter or email (or a LinkedIn message) giving them a little bit of information on your job search.  Here’s how to ask for a reference.

Let them know what type of positions you will be applying for, so they can tailor their resumes to fit your industry. Then ask, “Do you feel you know my work well enough to write me a good recommendation letter?” or “Do you feel you could give me a good reference?” Phrasing the question in this way gives your contact an easy out if he or she does not feel comfortable writing you a glowing recommendation.

Also be sure to offer each potential reference an updated copy of your resume and any other information about your skills, so he or she can be kept up to date with your experiences.

Create Your List

Once you have heard a positive response from 3 - 5 potential references, you can create your reference list. Don't list references on your resume or cover letter. Instead, have your references on a separate page that you can give to employers when they ask for them.

Make sure to include each reference’s name, job title, company, and full contact information (including work address, phone number and email). Make sure the information you include is up to date. Ask the contact to confirm his or her contact information if you are uncertain.

Say Thank You!

Keep your references updated on your job search. Let them know who might be calling for a reference. When you get that dream job, be sure to send each reference a thank you note for their help in the job search process.