At some point during your job search, you will be asked to provide a list of referees. You might do this as you fill out a job application, or it might happen later during the interview phase.
Employers rely on these referees—as well as professional background checks—to fact-check what you told them in your CV or during interviews. For this reason, you should be sure to include credible referees who can speak highly of you. And, you should let these people know that you are applying for jobs and listing them as referees.
In this article, you’ll learn how to choose a referee, ask them to be your referee with an example email, and follow up after a job interview.
Choose the right people
Make a list of people who could be potential referees. These can include direct supervisors from jobs or internships, coworkers who understood the value of your accomplishments or people you’ve supervised. If you don’t have much work experience, you can also consider people you know from volunteer activities and teachers or professors.
In general, the more recently you have worked with a potential referee, the better. But you can make exceptions for individuals employed at the company you are applying to, well-respected community members, or a supervisor you worked for at a past job who especially respected your work.
Start your initial list with everyone you can think of, then narrow it down based on your priorities, the nature of the relationship, and the position you’re applying for. Typically, companies ask for no more than three referees, but it’s a good idea to have four or even five in case one becomes unavailable.
Notify your referees in advance
The person giving you a reference may need to write a letter, fill out a questionnaire or speak to someone from human resources on the phone. Providing this favour is not a small task. Give your potential referee plenty of time to consider the request, and be sure to thank them for their time and efforts.
Ask nicely and be aware of how you’re being received
If it’s been a while since you’ve communicated with a potential referee, connect the dots between the past and the present: what you worked on together and where you are in your current career path. Providing them with a copy of your current CV is an easy way to do this. Always give your potential referee an option to decline. If they show any hesitation, gracefully back out of the invitation and move down your list to the next option. It’s better to preserve the relationship in the long run.
Get started with this example email for a reference request
Sometimes a phone call or in-person meeting is a good idea for asking someone to be a personal referee, but you can also start out with an email. Below is an example email template you can easily adapt, depending on the position you’re applying for and the relationship you have with your potential referee:
Subject line: Referee request
Dear [Potential referee’s name],
I am currently seeking employment as a [job title you’re applying for] and am hoping you will be able to provide a reference for me. Having worked with you for several years at Company ABC, I believe you can provide potential employers with specific information about my skills that will improve my chances of getting the job.
Attached is my current CV. Please let me know if you need any additional information to act as a referee on my behalf. Thank you for considering my request.
P: +852 5555 5555
Follow up, both before and after
Once you’ve provided your list of referees to your potential employer, send a quick follow-up email to let each referee know which company will be calling and, if you know the details, what information the company will be requesting. Then, if you are hired for the position, take a moment to celebrate by sending an email to your referees to let them know you’ve accepted a position and that you’re grateful for their help on your behalf.
Here’s an example email for how to update your referees:
Subject line: Reference request – update
Dear [Referee’s name],
Thank you again for being a referee for me. I wanted to let you know that I’ve completed my interviews for the [job title you interviewed for], and Company XYZ may be contacting you soon. Please let me know if there’s any additional information I can send to you.
And how to thank them:
Subject line: Referee request – thank you!
Dear [Referee’s name],
I’ve just accepted the [job you interviewed for] role at Company XYZ. Thank you for everything you did on my behalf. I sincerely appreciate it.
These contacts will likely be important throughout your career. By expressing your gratitude, you’ll be more likely to benefit from the relationship for years to come.