In this guide on how to ask for a reference by email, we break down the message into manageable chunks.
You’ll find an essential checklist of what to include and reasons why, as well as 10 email samples and a solid gold template.
How to ask for a reference by email
References are a critical part of the recruitment process. Including a couple of high-profile and professional references in your application can improve your chances of getting a job.
So, how do you ask for a reference by email? We show you how!
What is a reference, and why do you need them?
We could all write incredible CVs full of outstanding achievements, qualifications, and previous roles. But would anyone believe it?
Your referees provide potential employers with validation that you’re telling the truth. As well as confirming the details of your CV, a good reference can give an employer confidence they’re offering the job to the right person.
Someone acting as a reference for you is essentially vouching for you, which involves them personally in the process. What may seem like a small favor is actually a big deal.
If someone agrees to provide a reference, they’re putting their reputation on the line.
Asking someone to provide a reference for you is a big deal, so you’ll need to do it properly.
Who should provide a reference?
When selecting who to ask for a reference, you must choose wisely!
Firstly, think hard about who you will ask for a reference. Do they know you well enough? Can you trust them to provide a good reference? Are they in a position of authority?
In many cases, you’ll be asked to provide two referees. In most cases, people will offer a professional referee (a manager, director, CEO, or other senior colleagues) and a personal reference (a colleague or friend, but NOT a family member!).
In most cases, potential employers will expect a reference from your current boss. If there’s a problem, you can put down a previous employer, but be prepared to explain why
Don’t worry if you’re just finishing your education; you can always add your teacher or professor (if they agree).
Personal references should be from a long-term friend or colleague. You’ll often be asked how long you’ve known the person, so you’ll want someone you’ve known for longer than a few months, or it could look a little weird.
Once you’ve selected your referees, you’re ready to go on to the next stage – sending an email.
5 email tips for requesting a reference
Asking for a reference may appear as easy as typing “Can you provide me with a reference?” but it’s not.
Instead, you’re asking for a personal favor, so you’ll need to craft a positive, complimentary, and clear message.
Here are 5 email tips for requesting a reference:
- Always ask a referee before putting their name down – It can be embarrassing if your potential employer contacts a referee cold. So the first rule is to ask a referee’s permission before putting their name down. There are several reasons why they may not be able to help you, including potential communication delays and conflicts of interest.
- Provide details on the job – You’ll need to provide your potential reference with details on the job. You can link to the job advert or attach the job spec. It’s polite to provide this information as it’s crucial context.
- Remind your referee about your qualifications/skills/experience – It’s a good idea to provide a few lines (or attach your CV) to remind your reference about your skills and experience. You don’t need to provide pages of information, just the key points you think your potential employer might ask.
- Add a few compliments – You’re asking for a favor, so being polite is a good idea. A few compliments can work wonders, and you can offer to return the favor next time.
- Don’t forget to say thanks! – Sounds simple, but so many people forget to say thank you. Don’t be this person.
Reference request email format
The reference request email format should be familiar to anyone who has written a business message. We start with an attention-grabbing subject line, cover the basics in the body of the email (for tips, see above), and finish with a suitable professional sign-off.
Here’s how we do it…
1. Email subject for reference request
The email subject line for your reference request should be simple to understand, which makes it easy to write. A basic subject line (such as the one below) will often get the best results.
- Request for reference, (your name)
- Could you provide me with a reference?
If you know the person really well, you can be more friendly.
- Can I ask a favor? I need a reference
- Favor alert – Can you provide a reference?
2. Reference request email body
Your email body is all about asking for a reference, but don’t just jump straight in with a demand – provide a compliment and some context. Here’s a sample structure:
- Remind the person who you are (optional, but may be necessary)
- Explain how you value their opinion
- Ask them to be a reference
- Include some details about the role
This might seem like a long list, but you can get through all this in a few lines. Of course, you’re free to format your messages as you wish, but always remember you’re asking someone for a favor, so be positive, and show your appreciation!
3. How to end a reference request email
You’ve made your request and asked for a reference; now it’s time to sign off. The end of every reference request email should include the following:
- Set out the next steps (when someone might contact them)
- Request their permission and ask for contact details
- Sign off with a thank you!
10 reference request email examples
Ready to ask for a reference? We’ve got you covered.
Here are 10 reference request email examples to ask colleagues, former colleagues, professors, friends, and others. The request email examples here should be shaped around your specific circumstances.
You’ll see spaces where you can drop in details, and be sure to read them before sending. Ready to start? Let’s get you the reference.
1. Reference letter request email sample
Here’s a simple, standard reference letter request email sample. This basic message can be adapted for whoever you want to communicate with. Get it right, and you’ll have no problem getting a reference.
2. Asking a current employer for a reference sample email
Most employers will expect your current employer to ask for a reference. If that’s the case, use this template to ask your current employer for a reference.
ou’ll probably be wondering what the best time to send this is. We recommend sending it only after you've been offered the position.
This will avoid any awkward conversations if you don’t get the job!
3. Asking a previous employer for a reference sample email
If you’ve already left a company, they’re duty-bound to provide a reference, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask. This template is a standard way to ask a previous employer for a reference.
4. Asking a professor for a reference sample email
A reference from a professor or other highly qualified and respected professional (a doctor, or lawyer, for example) can provide an excellent boost for your application and employment chances.
Remember to use the person’s official title in your correspondence, and keep your messages short and businesses-like.
5. Asking a teacher for a reference sample email
You can ask a teacher for a reference if you don’t have a long career history. While they may not be able to provide insight into how you work, they can give a great rundown on your personal qualities.
Of course, they may not be your teacher anymore, but it pays to be polite.
6. Asking a supervisor for a reference sample email
Your supervisor has direct experience with how you work and can provide a massive boost for your career chances! Of course, if you know them well, you can send your message before applying, but in most cases, you should email how to ask your supervisor for a reference once you’ve been offered the job.
7. Asking a coworker for a reference email sample
A coworker won’t be able to provide you with a professional reference but can offer a personal one – especially if you’ve known them for a long time.
If they’re a good enough friend to ask for a reference, you don’t need to be too formal. Instead, shape this message around your relationship.
8. Reference thank you email sample
If someone has provided a reference, they deserve a thank you! Here’s how to thank someone for giving you a reference.
9. Sample email to request references from a candidate
We flip the script with this one. This email sample is one you’d send to a candidate to request a reference. In this example, you’ll see you don’t need to go into details. Instead, simply state what you want and provide details.
10. Referring a friend for a job email sample
Do you know how to respond if someone has asked you to provide a reference? If the answer is no, this template is for you. Of course, we can’t provide many details, but you can use this structure to shape your reference messages.
Reference request email template
If you’ve come this far and none of the reference sample emails works for you, then you’ll need to write your own. This reference request email template works through the steps outlined above and provides a framework for you to follow. So cut and paste it, and play around to find a format that works.
Our answers to some common questions
Before we leave you, we know you’ve probably got some questions, so we thought we’d answer them. So here are some quick answers to your email reference questions.
1. Questions to ask a reference for a job
If you’re asking someone to provide a reference for a client, you should ask:
- How long have you known the person
- How do you know them
- Their current position (professional reference) or relationship with you (personal reference)
- Ask them to clarify key points (qualification of the candidate, professional experience, achievements)
- Any reasons why you shouldn’t offer them the job
Of course, you may ask millions of other questions, so just use this list as the basics.
2. What does it mean when a job asks for references?
Employers will want to ensure that the things you have said in your interview or written in your CV or cover letter they’ll ask for a reference.
Most job offers are only given subject to references being checked. So asking for references (and following up) is 100% normal.
3. Is it a good sign if a company asks for a reference?
Absolutely! If a company asks for a reference, they’ve either offered you the position or are about it. Checking out your references is often the final step in the application and appointment process.
If they ask for a reference, you’ll need to ensure you have people you can approach.
4. What do employers ask for in a reference?
Employers won’t usually tell you what they want from a reference, but they will ask the same questions. They will want to know the following:
- How the person knows you
- How long have they known you
- What is your relationship
- Your qualifications/professional experience
- What you’re like to work with
- Are the things you have said in your interview or included in your CV true?
Who to ask for a reference?
In most cases, you should have two types of references: personal and professional. Here’s what they are, why they’re different, and who to ask:
- Personal reference – You can ask a friend or a current and former colleague to provide a reference. You shouldn’t ask a family member. When selecting a personal reference, choose someone who has known you for several years. Obviously, you’ll want someone who will speak about you positively!
- Professional reference – If you’re working, your new employer will expect a reference from your current employer. If not, then you can ask a former boss to provide one. If you’re not working, you can request a professor or teacher to provide a professional reference.
Can I ask my current employer for a reference?
Yes! Most employers will expect you to provide a reference from your current employer. But, as we explained earlier, you don’t (and shouldn’t) ask your current employer for a reference before you’ve been offered the job.
Final words on reference request emails
Employers will ask for references before formalizing your job offer, so if you’re already applying, it’s time to get your reference request emails out there.
By following our top tips and standard structures, you should find it easy to get the references you need.
Just remember to be friendly, positive, and appreciative in every reference request email, and you’ll be fine.
Good luck jobseeker!
Supercharge your communication with Flowrite
Write emails and messages faster across Google Chrome.
Share this article