After 6 years in a job that wasn’t going anywhere, I decided to take the leap and start looking for another opportunity.

The first thing I did was update my CV...which I hadn’t touched in 6 years. Some advice - always keep your resume up to date, it will save you a lot of time. 

As a result, it meant I had to update my recent work experience and my referees.

While I was working on it, a thought popped into my head: ‘Can I put my boss down as a referee without asking her?’. Hmmm should I, or shouldn’t I?

Against my better judgement, I put her down without asking. As I learnt later, that was a BIG no, no. And let me tell you why.

My boss was called to give a reference for me, and she was totally blindsided by it. Afterwards, she sat me down to chat about why I always need to ask someone first to be a referee before I apply for a job.

I’m going to share the love and tell you some of the advice she gave me about:

  1. Why it’s important to ask someone to be your referee BEFORE you put them on your resume.
  2. How to ask a person to be your reference.

(And in case you're wondering, she did give me a stellar reference anyway, but she could have been better prepared if I'd given her some notice).

Do I really need to ask? What they don’t know won’t hurt...will it?

That’s what I thought, but I was wrong!

If you ask them first, they won’t be surprised by a random call from an employer asking for a reference.

If you give your referee a heads up, they will have time to prepare and that gives you a better chance of getting a good recommendation. The more support you can give your referee with the process, the better your chances they will be prepared for the referee request and the better reference they can give the employer about you.

A guy with a brown paper bag on his head, there are question marks drawn all over it

Make a list

Before you start asking colleagues to be a referee for your next job, make a list. Take some time and carefully choose who you are comfortable to have talk about you to your new employer.

Choose people you have a good relationship with and who can give a good account of how and who you are as an employee. Also consider who can best highlight your skills and experience relevant to each position you apply for. If you are fortunate enough to have several possible referees, choose someone who knows your skills and experience that align with the job you are asking them to be a reference for.

Hot tip - pick someone you have worked with recently. There’s no point putting down someone that you worked with 5 years ago. They probably won’t have a great insight into how you have grown professionally.

What if you don’t have a great working relationship with your current manager? I hear you, and I have been there. Don’t put them down. It’s that simple. A lot of people work with more than just their manager. So, ask another colleague who has worked with you to be your reference instead. It helps if they are senior to you, but someone on the same level will work in a pinch.

A girl writing a list on a note pad

Make contact

Now that you have your list, it’s time to make contact!

There’re a few ways you can ask someone to be your reference. You can do it in person, over the phone or via email.

If you’re going to ask someone in person or over the phone, set up a meeting. Block it out in both your diaries and plan what you’re going to say to them.

Some questions to think about:

  • recap how you know each other
  • explain why they’re the best person to be your referee
  • talk about your work, experience, and qualifications
  • tell them the details of the role you’re applying for and take a copy of the position description to give them
  • ask them nicely
  • confirm their contact details (if they say yes)

My preferred method is to contact them via email. If you choose this too, then you can use my email template:

Subject: Referee request for [Company Name]

Dear [Name],

I hope you are well. I am emailing you to ask if you would help me with my job search and agree to be my referee.

I am in the process of applying for a new job, [Job Title], at [Company name] and would appreciate it if you could provide me with a reference.

I worked with you at [Former company name] for [Duration of employment]. I believe that you are the best person to provide my potential employer with a background about my skills and experience.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like to talk further about my request.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind regards

[ Your name]

It’s entirely up to you how you want to make contact. There is no right or wrong way, just do what whatever you’re most comfortable with.

Dwight form the TV show the office saying lets do this

Make it easy

Now you have your referees lined up, add them to your CV.

I set mine out like this:

Organisation                    Department of Education, Skills and Employment

Name                               Jiminy Cricket

Title                                  Manager

Telephone number          02 XXXX XXXX

 Email address      

Next, send your updated CV to your referees. They can use this as a guide to explain your skills and experience. It is also useful to send a link or document of the position description that you applied for, so your referee has some context.

You could also give them a few dot points that lists the projects you are proud of, and skills you want them to highlight to your new employer.

Lastly, give your references a heads up about any jobs that you apply for. Let them know that they may get a call to provide a reference. Make it easy for them. It will help them prepare and give you the best reference possible!

The simpson tv show, Jerry Springer episode he is onscreen saying  and now for my final thought.

Final thoughts

Choosing the right references is an important part of the job application process. Make sure you choose the right person who can give a positive account of your skills, experience, and character to

Be confident, give your referees notice and prepare them for the reference, and good luck!

If you have any advice about asking someone to be your referee, let me know in the comments below!

Images: iStock, giphy

Author: Clarissa @ jobactive