How (and When) to Ask for Job References

How (and When) to Ask for Job References
MR.Cole_Photographer/Getty Images

Your prospective employer has asked you to provide job references, but you’ve been so focused on the job search that have you haven’t given it much thought. What now?


Need some tips on who to choose? Check out this article, and bookmark for upcoming advice on this and other parts of the job-seeking experience. Here are a few points to keep in mind as you begin the process. 


Don’t leave this to the last minute. If you are in active job search mode, you should have a list of references ready to go. You can modify or add to it later, but start the process with a reference list so you can present it when asked.


ALWAYS ask permission before using someone as a reference. Not only is this a professional courtesy, it also makes the person aware they will be hearing from your potential employers – otherwise, they could be caught off guard.


Follow these tips when making the ask. Ask someone to be a reference in person, or by email or phone. Be polite, and be specific: Tell them the particular skills you’d like them to highlight. Be sure to give them an easy out if they are too busy or don’t feel comfortable acting as a reference – “I respect you and would appreciate having you as a professional reference, but I completely understand if your current commitments don’t make this possible.”


Provide your references with a copy of your résumé. Your résumé should always be tailored to the job announcement requirements when applying for a position. Giving your reference a copy allows them to convey their feedback in a way that effectively supports your candidacy. If possible, consider providing them with a copy of the job announcement. The better they understand the position and what you are targeting, the stronger the support they will be able to offer.


[RELATED: MOAA’s Résumé Critiques and Reviews (Exclusive to Premium and Life Members)]


Don’t just create a list of friends. Your reference list can be tailored to support the job requirements. Different people can talk to different skill sets; take their knowledge of your experience into consideration when offering references for a particular position.


Been out of touch? Not a problem. Don’t worry if it has been a while since you last communicated with someone you’d like to use as a reference. You should make it a standard practice to nurture your personal and professional networks with periodic updates about your job search. However, rest assured those you’ve fallen out of contact with are still in your corner and will still want to help any way they can – just as you would for them. They’ll be happy for the opportunity to reconnect with you, so don’t be shy about reaching out. Can’t find them? LinkedIn is an excellent way to locate former colleagues.


[RELATED: MOAA on LinkedIn]


What if they aren’t supportive? Not everyone you know is a good choice for a reference – not even high-ranking or higher-profile individuals. It is critical the people you choose actually support your candidacy. If you sense any hesitancy, do not use them as a reference. Thank them for their time, consideration, and honesty, then move on. Be careful not to burn bridges: It may not have worked out this time, but they may still be a valuable contact and reference down the road.


Want to know more? Check out the MOAA archive of career transition topics. Want some visual aids? Premium and Life members can access all the materials in MOAA’s webinar archive, including tips on marketing yourself for a second career. Learn more about joining MOAA or upgrading your membership at this link.


Jump-Start Your Career

Gain access to all of MOAA’s career tools available for you and your spouse.

Become a Premium Member Now

About the Author

Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)
Capt. Patricia Cole, USN (Ret)

Cole is MOAA's former Program Director, Career Transition Services