How to Ask Someone To Be a Reference (With Letter Examples)

This illustration lists tips for requesting a reference including "Choose whom to ask wisely," "Phrase your request carefully," "Include all useful information," "Edit your correspondence carefully," "Use postal mail or email," and "Say thank you."

 Brooke Pelczynski / The Balance

When you're starting a job search, it's important to line up people who can attest to your abilities and qualifications. Many companies will ask you to include a list of references with your job application or provide them during the interview process.

If you have references ready in advance, it will help speed up the hiring process and avoid scrambling to find people who can attest to your qualifications at the last minute.

Types of References You Can Use

References are people who can speak highly of you and your character (a personal reference) and/or about your work experience, job qualifications, and skills (an employment reference). Hiring managers often contact your references by phone or via email to get a sense of you as a job candidate.


Always ask permission before using someone as a reference during your job search. That way, they can expect to be contacted and will be prepared to discuss your qualifications for a job.

You can ask someone to serve as a reference with a formal letter sent by mail or an email message. Get detailed tips on how to write a letter requesting permission to use someone as a reference.

How to Choose the Best References

It's important to choose whom to ask wisely. Typically, you need to provide potential employers with three references. Make sure to select people who will give you a glowing reference. Think about people who can speak to your skills and qualifications for the position.

However, this does not mean they all have to be former employers. You can also use business acquaintances, professors, clients, or vendors as references. If you have limited work contacts, you might also ask someone for a personal reference. In some circumstances, you may be able to ask a friend to give you a reference.

How to Ask for a Reference

Phrase your request carefully. Try to phrase your request in a way that does not make the person feel put on the spot. Rather than simply saying, “Will you be a reference for me?” ask them whether they feel qualified or comfortable providing you with a reference. This gives them an opportunity to say no if they do not feel like they could provide you with a strong, positive reference, or if they don't have the time to help. Here are some options for phrasing your request:

  • Do you think you know my work well enough to provide me with a reference?
  • Do you feel comfortable giving me a reference?
  • Do you feel you could give me a positive reference?

Include all the details. Be sure to include all information that the person needs in order to give you a proper reference. It's a good idea to include a copy of your resume with your request, so your reference giver will have your most current employment history. You should also tell the person what jobs you are applying for, so they can begin to think of how they might answer certain questions.

Use postal mail or email. You can send your request via regular mail (if you can wait a couple of days before sending your list of references) or by email. If you're using email, put your name and request in the subject line, so your message gets opened:

Subject: Your Name - Reference Permission


Email can be a good way to request a reference because if the person isn't comfortable recommending you it can be easier to decline by sending an email message than by telling you in person.

Edit your correspondence carefully. Because you are asking this person to speak to your professional qualifications, be sure you come across as professional in your letter. Read through the letter for any spelling or grammar errors. If you send a letter by mail, make sure you use business letter format.

Say thank you. After the person agrees to be a reference for you, be sure to send a note to thank them for their help. Read here for sample thank-you notes. Also, take the time to let the person know if you get the position they recommended you for.

Letter Sample Requesting Permission to Use a Reference

This is a reference request letter example. Download the reference request letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.

Screenshot of a reference request letter sample

Letter Requesting Permission to Use a Reference (Text Version)

Carol Smith
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345

March 21, 2022

John Lee
Acme Accounting
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321

Dear John,

I hope you are well. I would appreciate your assistance with my job search. I am in the process of relocating to New York City, and I am searching for a position in online media.

With your permission, I would like to use you as a reference who can speak to my qualifications, skills, and abilities. Of course, I would advise you when I have given out your name and contact information, so you will know when to expect a call. Please let me know if you would be comfortable providing a reference for me.

Advice and suggestions on the best way to conduct my job search would also be appreciated. If you are aware of any job openings that I might be qualified for, I would be grateful if you shared this information with me.

I have attached my most recent resume for your review. Please let me know if you need any other information from me.

Thank you in advance for your assistance.


Signature (hard copy letter)

Carol Smith

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  1. SHRM. "Employers Slow to Pick Up Trend of Continuous Screening."

  2. SHRM. "Conducting Background Investigations and Reference Checks."

  3. CareerOneStop. Resumes and Applications. "References."

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