how to ask for a reference

Have you recently decided to take the next step in your career and leave your job? If you're in the process of looking for a new job, sooner or later you'll be asked to provide a reference.

The purpose of a reference is to check that the claims on your CV are accurate, to get a better idea about your previous role, to understand what skills you have to offer, and to assess your attitude in the workplace.

References are a completely normal part of looking for a new job, but asking for one from your old employer can be intimidating - especially if you left your old job on "bad" terms. 

Here at HRS, we've helped hundreds of people to move from their old, dead-end job into a life-changing career that they can be proud of. For that reason, we have heaps of advice we can give you to help make your transition from one job to another as smooth as possible. So, how do you ask for a reference from your old employer?

Decide who you're going to ask

Your new employer might ask you for one reference, but more often than not they ask for 2 or 3. You need to consider who you'll ask for a reference carefully. The person you choose needs to be able to vouch for your qualifications, your skills, and your personality.

So, when choosing the people you'll request a reference from, make sure they:

  • Know you well/worked closely with you
  • Are likely to have nice things to say about you
  • Have the time to provide a well-rounded, honest reference

Choosing someone who didn't work with you directly, or choosing someone who doesn't have a lot of spare time to give a good reference, could hinder your job application/future employment.

Make your request politely

When you've made a list of potential referees, give them a call, drop them an email, or arrange a quick meeting. You might be in a position where you've been out of work for 6 months or a year. In that time, your previous employer might have forgotten some of the specific things you contributed to the company & will be grateful for a quick update on your situation alongside the request. 

One thing to note is that your previous employer is not obliged to provide you a reference if they don't want to, so make sure you ask in a polite and respectful manner.

Here's a good example of what to say:

"Hello, I've recently applied for a position at X company and I was wondering if you'd be willing to provide a reference?

I know that we worked together on X, Y, Z projects and achieved some really great results. 

I'd be very grateful for your time and look forward to hearing from you."

Have a back-up in mind

It's possible that the person you contact for a reference won't provide you with one. Bear in mind that a neutral, unenthusiastic reference will probably do you more harm than good, so if someone isn't particularly keen on giving you one, it's probably for the best.

If you want to progress through your job application quickly, it can be beneficial to have a few 'back-up' referees in mind. These could be, colleagues, university lecturers, or team leaders.

Alternatively, when you leave your company, ask them for a formal letter of recommendation that you can keep on file and use throughout your job search going forward. This is a great way to avoid having to pester your previous employer for a reference months after you leave your job.

Remember to say thank you

When someone takes time out of their day to give you a reference, it's important that you go back and thank them. Whether this is a quick email, a 5-minute phone call, or an invitation to lunch, whichever way you choose to do it, let them know you're thankful. 

Remember that your referee is probably rooting for you to get the new job too, so give them an update on the outcome when you find out if you got the job! 

So, there you have it, our tips to make asking for a reference as easy as possible! If you're currently looking for a job in science, we have a lot of great vacancies.

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 Read More:

CV Tips and Advice

- How to provide a reference for a former employee