Occasionally—but not always—job advertisements will ask applicants to provide references along with their resume for consideration. Here's the best case scenario if you need to provide references as part of the job application: you departed from previous positions in good standing and have a general letter of reference from your employer attesting to your competent performance.
But what if you didn't leave on good terms or neglected to ask for a letter? Or, what if you are a recent high school or college grad without work experience? In these cases, you will need to write a reference request letter to someone who can vouch for your potential as an employee.
Who to Use as a Reference
If you have work experience, professional references can be provided from former supervisors who are familiar with your work history, strengths, and hard and soft skills. If you no longer remember the name of a supervisor or they have moved on, a second option is to contact the Human Resources (HR) department of your previous employers for a reference; they should still have your personnel file available, from which they can glean the information needed for a reference.
A former supervisor or direct manager is the ideal reference provider, since these contacts know you better, and will be able to share a more personalized reference.
Letters from HR tend to simply supply bare bones facts, like the dates of your employment.
If you are a recent graduate, you will probably be writing reference letter requests to former teachers, coaches, work study supervisors, pastors, or the leaders of community groups or extracurricular clubs in which you have participated.
Think carefully about who you ask to be your references—you want to select people who will write positively about you. Opt to request references from people with whom you maintained a good rapport. People who know you fairly well will be able to write a specific reference letter, which is more meaningful to potential employers.
What to Include in a Reference Request Letter
When you write a reference request letter, you should provide:
- An introduction explaining to the recipient your need for a reference
- A brief reminder to the recipient of the details of your connection – the dates for which you worked for their organization, the nature of your job, and any unique or outstanding contributions you made to your employer
- The deadline by which you need to submit references
- Your sincere thanks for their assistance in serving as a reference for you
- Your contact information
It’s also a good idea to attach a copy of your resume and copies of the job ads to which you are applying. This will give the recipient valuable information they can use as talking points should an employer contact them to ask about your work history with them.
As well, your letter can include details on points you'd like the reference-giver to mention. You can say, "The company is looking for XYZ skills, which I think I demonstrated on the ABC project."
The following sample letter demonstrates how to ask someone to provide a reference for employment. This letter can be sent via email or paper mail.
If you request a reference via email, include the following in the subject line of your message: Your Name - Reference Request.
Requesting a Reference Letter Sample
This is a reference request letter example. Download the reference request letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online).
Requesting a Reference Letter Sample (Text Version)
123 Main Street
Anytown, CA 12345
January 17, 2022
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321
Dear Mr. Doe,
I am writing to ask whether it would be possible for you to provide a reference for me. As you know, I worked as an Assistant Manager for you between August 1, 2018 and September 1, 2021, during which time I maintained a perfect attendance record and earned high scores on my performance evaluations. If you would be able to attest to my qualifications for employment and to the skills I attained during my tenure at ABC Company, I would sincerely appreciate it.
I am in the process of seeking employment as an Assistant Manager and a positive reference from you would enhance my prospects of achieving my career goals; I need to have my list of references ready to submit by February 1, 2022.
Please let me know if there is any information I can provide regarding my experience to assist you in giving me a reference; I’ve attached my resume for your review. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (111) 111-1111.
Thank you for your consideration.
Signature (hard copy letter)
Maintaining Communications with Your References
The most powerful references come from people who know you well and support your candidacy. That's why it's important to maintain a relationship with your references all the time—not just when you're writing to request a reference.
After someone gives you a reference, always follow up with an update, whether you got a job offer or did not. Remember to say “thank you”—it takes time and effort to be someone's reference, and that should be acknowledged. Finally, stay in touch once you've landed a job. That can be as simple as sending over an email to say hello, writing a comment on social media, or meeting up for coffee. This will make it easier to ask for a reference in the future (and will also make it easier for the person to write the letter about you).
More About References
Sometimes, the person you ask for a reference may ask you to write a draft of the letter yourself that they can then customize and sign. Here are reference letter samples you can review, along with letter samples for character references, and letters asking for a reference.
Looking for your first job? Concerned about the references your employer might give you? Consider using a character reference (personal reference) in addition to or as an alternative to employment reference letters. Here's how to request a character reference.
CHOOSE YOUR REFERENCES CAREFULLY: When deciding who to ask for a reference, choose a former supervisor, teacher, or mentor with whom you have had a good and lasting relationship— you want your references to be strongly in support of your candidacy.
MAKE THEIR JOB EASY: Positive letters of recommendation take a lot of unpaid time and effort to write. Provide your references with all of the information they’ll need to do a good job on your behalf: your resume, details of your employment or academic experience with them (including dates), copies of job ads, your contact information, and the contact information of the employers who may be reaching out to them.
SAY “THANK YOU” IN ADVANCE: Don’t forget to thank your potential references both for the support they’ve provided to you in the past and for their consideration of your reference request. The appreciation and graciousness you express will go a long way to persuade them to agree to write a positive letter of recommendation for you.