As your job search comes to a close, you’ll likely be asked for a professional reference before being given an official offer. While a good reference can seal the deal or reaffirm a company’s perception of you, a bad one can oftentimes lose you the job. To best prepare yourself for this final step, it’s important to cultivate and maintain relationships with your coworkers. You’ll need them when it comes to crossing that finish line!
When do I ask?
Earlier the better. When you start your job search, think about a list of people you would use as a reference and reach out. When the time comes for reference checks, you won’t have to scramble or send references without having spoken to them first. Treat this like you would any other stage of the interview process and prepare accordingly.
Who do I ask?
It’s important to put some thought into who you ask. There’s a lot to consider so pick references who check these boxes:
- Someone you know is going to give you a positive review based on previous performance reviews or recommendations
- Someone you trust to keep your job search confidential, whether that’s a current or former coworker
- Someone you worked closely with who can speak to your character and skill set (soft skills are more important than ever now that we’re working remote -- think communication, reliability, work ethic, collaboration)
- At least one direct manager (ask a former manager if your current doesn't know you’re looking)
- If you’re early in your career, think professors, advisors, coaches, or internship supervisors
- A peer or a direct report if you are a manager yourself
- Depending on the role you're interviewing for, you may want to include references from outside of your direct team (for example, an engineer could benefit from having a recommendation from a Product Manager)
- Someone who can speak eloquently and add value with their responses
How do I ask?
If possible, we recommend asking face to face. Otherwise, a phone call or email works well. Here’s what to cover:
- Ask how they are. Remember this is about cultivating relationships! How have things been with you and your role at [Company X]?
- Tell them why you’re reaching out. I’ve been interviewing for [position type] roles and I’d love to list your name as a reference.
- Explain why you chose them. I thought of you because we’ve [ways in which you’ve worked together], and you could speak to my [key skills and abilities].
- Confirm they’re willing to refer you. Would you have any hesitations being a reference for me? I understand if you’re too busy and can’t make time right now, but I’d really appreciate it.
- Describe the role. The company is looking for someone who [very short description of key elements of the role].
- Provide direction. I’m hoping you can talk about: [1-2 skills, abilities, or talents that are key to the position], [Specific project you’re proud of that’s relevant to the role], [Areas for improvement and how you addressed them], [Key strengths/differentiator between you and other candidates].
- Ask their preferred contact method. How would you prefer to be reached (i.e. phone vs. email)? What time of the day typically works best for you?
- Say thanks! Thank you in advance for your time, and let me know how I can return the favor!
And don’t forget to let them know when you land the job!