4 Steps to Asking for a Job Reference

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One of the last steps involved with interviewing for a job is having a potential employer reach out to your job references. At this point in the process, there isn’t much that can mess things up…except the people with whom you choose to connect the employer.

If you’ve been asked to provide a letter of recommendation, start here. But if your hiring manager is looking to speak with a reference, you’re in the right place.

One in three people miss out on a job opportunity because of a bad reference. Here’s how to avoid that fate.

1. Choose Wisely

The best references are previous employers and coworkers. They know the kind of contributions you are able to bring to a role. Customers, clients, or commanding officers in the military are also great options. If you’ve recently graduated from school, use teachers or professors who can speak to your abilities. More personal connections aren’t usually used, but if there is a good story to tell about work you’ve performed on your own time, feel free to include a religious leader, member of a club you lead, or another volunteer at an organization that you give your time to.

2. Confirm They’ll Be a Good Reference

As mentioned, about one-third of people miss out on opportunities because of a negative reference. You can often avoid this by being straightforward. When you speak with someone about being your reference, ask if they can provide you with an unqualified, positive recommendation. If they don’t seem 100% enthusiastic, look for someone else who can sing your praises.

3. Refresh Their Memory

Whether you worked with a reference a year ago or a decade ago, it doesn’t hurt to remind them how great you are. Share examples of projects you worked on together or achievements you earned while on their team, so that they will remember to bring them up too.

4. Keep Them In The Loop

Let your references know each time you expect an employer to contact them. This is one of the reasons why you should not include references on your resume—you want to know before employers reach out. (You also don’t want to be sharing your references’ private contact information widely.) Tell your reference who will be reaching out to them, the name of the company, and the role for which you are applying. The more they know, the better equipped they will be to talk about why you’re the right fit.
If an employer asks you for your job references, you’re in the home stretch! There may just be a few more steps before you’re negotiating a job offer. (Need tips on negotiating? Check out this article.) Job references are one part of the job search process where you have considerable influence. Use these tips and you’re on your way.


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At ZipRecruiter, our mission is to connect employers and job seekers with their next great opportunity. On the ZipRecruiter blog, we use insider experience and data derived from our AI-driven jobs marketplace to provide advice and insights on topics such as the job search process, interviewing, and labor market trends. Start your job search or post a job today and connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

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