At some point during your job search, you will likely be asked to provide a reference or multiple references to a potential employer. Often, you are asked to do so during an interview (particularly if you have made a good impression). You may sometimes be asked to provide references with your application as well.

Providing a potential employer with references is a key component in the job search process. Employers rely on references to fact-check what you write on your resume and what you say during the interview. Speaking with your references also give a potential employer insight into your work habits and professionalism.

For these reasons, it is important to choose your references carefully; you will want someone who not only knows you and your work habits well, but who will also speak highly, positively and strongly about you.

Who should I choose to be my reference?

In general, the more recently you worked with a potential reference, the better. This person has the most up-to-date knowledge of your skills and will likely be able to answer very specific questions. If you do not have much work experience, it is acceptable to consider people from volunteer activities or professors.

Since employers often ask for more than one reference, you may also need to look further back in your work history. If that’s the case, be sure to only ask people who you’ve maintained a professional relationship with. Asking a manager whom you haven’t connected with in years to be a reference is not a good choice because without regular contact, that person may not remember much about you, your skills or your work ethics.

How to Ask Someone to be Your Reference

It’s always a good idea to bring 2-3 references to your interview, including someone who supervised you. Be sure to let your references know so they aren’t surprised if they get a call from the employer! If you have the phone number of the person (or people) you would like to ask to be your reference, call or text them to make your request. If you don’t, then send an email asking permission to provide their name and contact information to a potential employer. You should never give a reference’s contact information without first asking their permission and providing them with the information they need to provide a good reference (ie. The position you’re applying for, the company name and who may be contacting them.)

If they agree, then you should also ask how they would prefer to be contacted. If English is not their first language, are they comfortable to speak by phone or would they prefer to answer questions by email? Make sure they also have all of the information about the job you are applying for and its requirements so that they can speak specifically about your skills and how they relate to the job.

Also, if time zones are a potential obstacle, you need to be the facilitator between your potential employer and your reference to make the connection as easy as possible for both parties.

Don’t Forget to Thank Your Reference

You should follow up with your reference after you know they have connected with your potential employer to thank them for the support and help. You can write a short note or give them a quick call, but it is important to take the time to let them know that you appreciate their efforts. It is also a good idea to let the person know if you get the position.