How to ask someone to be a referee

This article is recommended for individuals near the beginning of their careers

Christian Madsen

Written by Christian Madsen

Managing Director of 11 Recruitment

How to select a referee

Choosing the right referee is an important decision that can significantly impact your chances of getting the job. Throughout my years in recruitment, I have unfortunately seen many job offers be rescinded due to a poor reference check. 

When thinking about who you want to use as a referee, I recommend you select someone who:

  • You have had a professional relationship with - for example, a supervisor, manager, colleague, or client.
  • Is relevant to the job you're applying for and can speak to your qualifications, skills, and experience in a way that directly relates to the role.
  • You have had recent interactions with, as they will be able to provide a more accurate and up-to-date assessment of your abilities and work performance.
  • Is supportive of your job search and willing to provide a positive reference.
  • Can articulate your strengths effectively by providing specific examples that highlight your capabilities.
  • Has a respectable reputation in their field.

I also recommend that you maintain a list of potential referees and their contact information, and update this list regularly as your career progresses. This will make it easier to choose an appropriate referee for jobs you apply for in the future.

How to ask someone to be a referee

How to ask someone to be a referee

Asking someone to be a referee for a job you've applied for is an important step, and it's crucial to do so politely and professionally. For example, you should:

  • Contact the person well in advance of when you anticipate needing their reference - this gives them time to consider your request and prepare their thoughts.
  • Use a formal means of communication, such as an email or a phone call - if you opt for email, ensure that your message is professional and well-structured.
  • Briefly explain the types of jobs you are applying for and why you believe they would be a valuable reference.
  • Remind them of your professional relationship and any relevant context, such as when you worked together and your job title.
  • Make it clear that you understand if they are unable or unwilling to provide a reference.
  • Express your gratitude for their support and time.
  • Let them know that you're available to answer any questions or provide additional information if needed.
  • Advise them that you will be in touch later with further information regarding any positions you applied for that they are going to receive a reference check call about.

Remember to be respectful, appreciative, and professional in your request, and always follow up with a thank-you note after they've provided the reference.

How to prepare your referee

Preparing your referee before they receive a reference check call is essential, as it will allow you to:

  • Guide them on which specific skills, accomplishments, or experiences are most relevant to the job, ensuring that their responses are tailored to the position.
  • Address and discuss potential weaknesses in your application, so you can work together to present a more complete and positive picture of your capabilities.
  • Give them a heads-up to expect a call and coordinate a convenient time for them to speak with the prospective employer.
  • Prevent them from being caught off guard, so they can confidently speak about your abilities and contributions.
  • Demonstrate professionalism and respect for their time and effort - this can help maintain a positive relationship with them for future opportunities.

To prepare your referee, I recommend you get in touch with them before you pass their contact details to a potential employer and provide them with:

  • The name of the employer who will be reaching out.
  • The name of the company in question.
  • The specific job title you're aiming for.
  • A clear understanding of the role's responsibilities, duties, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • The particular attributes your potential employer is seeking.
  • The reasons motivating your interest in this position.
  • Your conviction in your capability to excel in the role.
  • Information about how this job aligns with your career aspirations.

Adequately preparing your referee can help to ensure that the information they provide aligns with your application, is tailored to the specific job, and presents you in the best possible light.

How to prepare your referee

When to delay reference checks

The timing of when your referee will be contacted will vary depending on the specific practices and preferences of the organisation you are applying to.

However, if a potential employer is requesting your referee's contact details too early in the process, you should politely request a delay until you have received a preliminary offer of employment. There are several reasons for this, for example:

  • An early reference check may unintentionally expose your job search to your current workplace, potentially leading to strained relationships or repercussions.
  • You may be considered for many jobs before you receive an offer of employment and you don't want your referee to be contacted each time - if they are, they may:
  • Feel annoyed by how frequently they are being contacted and decline further reference check calls.
  • Assume that you have successfully landed a job, only to lose it and be applying for positions once again.
  • Mention to your prospective employer that they've already provided several reference checks for you - resulting in speculation regarding why you have not yet been successful.
  • Say something along the lines of "Oh, are they still looking for a job?" - raising questions about your current situation.
  • Imply to your prospective employer that you have been applying for a lot of positions - causing them to doubt your enthusiasm for their company or vacancy.

To add a layer of complexity, the referee might end up telling your past colleagues, and inadvertently sharing your job search struggles. Suddenly, your privacy is compromised, and your past managers and colleagues are in the loop about your quest for a new opportunity.

That's why I always advise job seekers to have an earnest conversation with their referees. Politely request them to treat your job search as confidential information. And if a recruiter presses you for references early on in the hiring process, exercise caution.

So, I urge you to take charge of your reference checks. Make sure they only come into play once a preliminary offer is on the table. And while you're at it, have an honest conversation with your referees, kindly requesting their discretion. 

When to delay reference checks

Are you looking for a job?

Are you looking for a job?

Now that you know how to ask someone to be a referee, you should take a moment to check our current vacancies page.

At 11 Recruitment, we have a range of white-collar temp and perm jobs available. We're always on the lookout for top talent to place with our clients, so we encourage you to apply for any positions that are of interest.

If none of our current vacancies are right for you, you should register for job alerts. Then we’ll be able to notify you when we receive a position that matches your profile.

Christian Madsen

What are your thoughts?

I'd love to have a conversation with you about this topic - please leave a comment below if you have any thoughts or opinions 🙂

Christian Madsen

Managing Director of 11 Recruitment

  • Thanks so much for creating this content! It makes sense and I’m glad to learn about these useful tips.👍👍

  • Akhlaq Ahmad says:

    Hey I am mechanical associate engineer and boilers engineer my experience with boilers and mechanical feeld

  • Samuel Essel says:

    Thanks for highlighting me on some certain things to consider when writing CV.I really appreciate.

  • Judith Warangi says:

    Thank you for the clarification and it is much helpful to me.

    • Christian Madsen says:

      Hi Judith, thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad to hear you found the article useful 🙂

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