So you’ve been typing away in Microsoft Word for an hour, dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s, convinced that you’ve got the most sparkling CV in all the land. But hold up, you’ve realized you’ve forgotten to include references, and your mind swims. How do you go about asking someone to be your reference? Who is the best person to ask? What if they don’t say the right thing to a potential employer?
Fret not, we answer all of your questions below with the do’s and don’ts of asking for a professional reference.
Do: ask a manager, superior or professional mentor
Remember the main reason why a potential employer wants to hear from a reference. They want someone that can vouch for you, who has worked with you in a professional setting and knows the in’s and out’s of your experience, skills, competency, attitude and work ethic. Asking someone with authority in the company will legitimize your feedback from them more so than if your reference is a random colleague.
Don’t: just ask anyone to be a reference
Just because someone knows who are you doesn’t mean they are qualified to act as a professional reference. Think about who would be best appropriate and go from there. That doesn’t mean a previous work pal who had less esteemed position than you but who you had a laugh with, or your local barista. Choose someone who has managed you and is aware of your skills and experience and how you’ve put them into practice.
Do: let the person know with plenty of notice
Planning on sending off an application tomorrow? Then don’t be frantically emailing a potential reference the day before in the hopes that they’ll say yes. Be practical and organized. Remember that a rogue email can easily be missed, so give your reference time to respond and think about your questions. Plus, the longer they’ve had to make a decision the better prepared they’ll be to answer any queries from an employer.
Don’t: pressure them for an answer
This goes hand in hand with making sure you give your potential reference enough time to respond. People are busy, and your email may not be top priority for the person in question, especially since they are likely to be a supervisor or manager and will have a lot on their plate. Respect that. Be patient and after your initial contact, wait a couple of days before checking in with them. Hassling won’t help you in the long run, and you could risk burning some bridges.
Do: be specific in your requests
Instead of approaching a potential reference with a generic ‘are you willing to be my reference?’ question, make the most out of this interaction by specifying how they can help you. If the job requires strong organizational and leadership skills for example, ask them to share details of projects you’ve worked on in which you’ve demonstrated those skills. That way if a potential employer contacts them, they’ll know what to say, and their feedback will work in your favour.
Don’t: make up your references
You will get caught. And thinking you won’t is a rookie move. Once an employer finds out that the reference either doesn’t exist, or you have no actual connection to them, they’ll instantly distrust you and you’ll likely be dismissed for future roles not only in that company but also in the industry in general.
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