How To Write A Reference Request Email (With Examples)

By Sky Ariella
Dec. 11, 2022

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Summary. Having good references can be the key to landing an interview or job, and knowing how to professionally and appropriately ask for references is crucial.

During your professional career, you will come in contact with many different people within your line of work. Some of those people such as a manager or supervisor could become a reference to speak on your behalf if you ever need one.

Knowing how to ask these people to be a reference is very important. Luckily, we have examples and tips to help you write that reference request email.

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s important to have the right people down on your reference list.

  • Always ask before putting someone down as a reference.

  • Follow up with your reference after getting hired and share your appreciation for what they have done.

How to write a reference request email with examples

What is a Professional Reference?

A professional reference is someone you’ve worked with professionally, academically, or in a volunteer setting. Employers request a list of professional references as a way of fact-checking all the claims you’ve made on your resume, as well as learning more about you as an employee.

This is usually the names and contact information for 3-5 people that can vouch for vouch for the quality of your work and great interpersonal skills is well worth the effort.

But you can’t put down references without first consulting those you plan to refer the hiring manager to. Doing so is unprofessional, and will leave both your reference and the recruiter feeling frustrated with you (and that’s not how you land a job).

Who Can Be a Professional Reference?

A professional reference can be anyone who can speak to your qualities in a professional setting. It shouldn’t be a relative or friend unless you’re providing a character reference.

Pick someone who’s going to be honest about your qualifications, as recruiters might conduct backdoor reference checks. While there are some things companies can’t do during backdoor checks, they will still find out any secrets or flat-out lies.

Professional references can come from:

Who not to ask for a reference:

  • A company owner who you only met once

  • A boss from a job you worked at over 10 years ago

  • A supervisor that you didn’t get along with

  • A professor who doesn’t remember you

  • A family member

  • A friend who has no experience with your professional aptitude

Just because someone was your boss, doesn’t automatically make them a good choice to use for a reference. Expect your potential employer to check your references and make sure they know your work well. Consider your circumstances and adjust accordingly.

How to Write an Email Requesting a Reference

You’ve come up with a list of relevant professionals who know your work habits. The next step is how to ask for a reference from them.

  1. Request with advanced notice. Life is hectic. Adding on everything that could potentially come with being someone’s reference is no easy choice.

    Your reference may need to do anything from a simple phone conversation to writing out a recommendation letter. Be sure to send your request email with ample time for them to decide and prepare for giving you an enthusiastic reference.

  2. Use a professional email format. Even if you know your previous employer very well, it’s best practice to keep a professional email format when sending a recommendation request. This should include:

    • A direct and simple subject line (]Your Name]-Reference Request)

    • Your contact details

    • The recipients contact details

  3. Introduce the situation. After making the initial “hi, how are you” introduction, begin your request. This should bring them up to speed as to why they’re reading your email in the first place.

    Explain the position you’re applying for, and that you’re asking their permission to be a reference for you. It should be a polite explanation no longer than a paragraph.

  4. Provide the reason you’re choosing them. The average person will have more than ten jobs throughout their lives.

    Considering all the professors, supervisors, and mentors you’ve had in your career journey, there has to be a reason you’ve decided on this particular person to use as a reference. Let them know why you think they’re qualified to speak on your skills and work performance.

  5. Provide all information they may need. Before closing your reference request email, make sure that you’ve included everything the referee could possibly need.

    Your email should contain:

    • All your contact details

    • Your resume

    • A thank you

    You can also send your choice of reference the job description if they agree to help you out. This will ensure that they’re able to discuss your most relevant skills and experiences.

    There could be additional information that your previous employer needs to give you a glowing reference. Let them know you’re available to provide anything else that may come up.

  6. Say thank you. Don’t forget to express gratitude at the end of your message. Being polite and professional will increase the odds that the email’s recipient will act as a positive reference for you.

  7. Follow up. After your contact has accepted your request to be a reference, make sure you follow up accordingly. Let them know what they should be expecting from your potential employer, when the deadline is and how they should prepare your recommendation if they agree to be your reference.

    Once hired, it can be a nice gesture to let them know that you got the job and thank them once again for their help in the application process. Remember, you’ll never know exactly what it was that landed you a new job. Maybe, their reference put you ahead of other applicants.

Reference Request Email Example and Template

Reference Request Example 1

Subject Line: Madelynn Smith-Reference Request

Madelynn Smith
6701 East Lane
Brooklyn, NY, 80907

Morgan Jacobs
Rhinebeck Steakhouse

September 13, 2020

Dear Morgan,

I hope all is well with you. I am in the process of finding a new job as an assistant manager for a restaurant. I’m reaching out to see if you’d be willing to act as a reference for me while I’m preparing for interviews.

I worked under your supervision as a waitress between 2016-2019 at Rhinebeck Steakhouse. Since we worked together closely for three years, I believe you could speak to my customer service growth and food service skills.

I’ve attached my updated resume below for your consideration. Thank you for considering my request and for teaching me so much about the restaurant industry. Please let me know if you need any other information.


Madelynn Smith

Reference Request Example 2

Subject Line: Reference Request for Ruth Aimes

Ruth Aimes
417 Chestnut Ave
Austin, TX, 22375

Kayla Brennan
Animal Welfare Institute

September 13, 2020

Dear Kayla,

How are you? Hope everything is good with the new volunteers. I’d like to ask you to be a reference while applying to new jobs as a veterinary office assistant.

Volunteering for the Animal Welfare Institute from 2014-2018 was one of the most impactful experiences of my life. Being the volunteer organizer, I think you got to know me, my passion for animals, and my work habits very well. I believe your reference could greatly increase my chances of getting a position in a veterinary office. This could be a great opportunity to turn my passion into a career.

I’ve included a copy of my resume below for your consideration. Thank you for reading this email. Please let me know if there’s anything you need.


Ruth Aimes

Reference Request Example 3

Martin Erickson
87 Cherry Rd.
Fresno, CA, 87655

Tom Williams
Williams Designs Co.

September 13, 2020

Dear Tom,

Hope all is well! How’ve you been?

I’m in the process of applying to a few different companies as a graphic designer and would be honored if I could use you as a reference with your permission.

You were the first person who came to mind when considering references. Working for you for five years between 2014-2019 as a Jr. graphic designer taught me so much about the industry. You know my work, skills, and qualifications more than any boss I’ve ever had. I believe having you speak for me as a reference could land me my next job.

I’ve attached an up-to-date resume for you to read over. Thanks again for all your help in my career. Please reach out if you need more information.


Martin Erickson

Fill in the blanks, make some small adjustments to suit your situation, and you’ve got yourself a great reference request email.

Subject Line: [Full Name] – Reference Request

Hello [First Name],

I hope you’re doing well and everything is great at [where they work or where you know them from].

I’m writing because I’ve been applying for [job title] roles at [company name/company type], and I’d be thrilled if I could put you down as a reference. You came to mind because of [shared professional experience]. Naturally, I thought you’d be a great person to speak to my [skills relevant to the position that reference has knowledge of].

From my job search experience so far, I see that hiring managers value [key skills, qualifications, and/or responsibilities]. Specifically, I’m hoping that you can speak to my [skills required for the position] and how I stand out from other candidates thanks to my talent for [additional skill]. In particular, I believe that speaking about our work together on [project you worked together on] would be impressive for recruiters.

Please let me know if you’re able to act as my reference. If you are, let me know your preferred contact information and method, as well as any other details you need from me. I’ve attached my resume and a few of the job descriptions for you to refer to.

If you agree, I believe that [company name(s)] will contact you around [time frame].

No pressure if your schedule is busy or you don’t feel comfortable acting as my reference. Thank you for your time and considering serving as my reference, and let me know any time I can return the favor.

Warm regards,
[Your Name]

Follow Up Email Example

Martin Erickson
87 Cherry Rd.
Fresno, CA, 87655

Tom Williams
Williams Designs Co.

September 24, 2020

Dear Tom,

I wanted to reach out and share some good news with you. I was offered a job with Brookline Graphic Designs as an associate graphic designer.

I can’t thank you enough for all the help you’ve given me during this process. Your enthusiastic reference really made my application stand out from the competition.

Please keep in touch and thanks again!


Martin Erickson

Expert Opinion

Reference Request Email Message

Tracy Kawa
CEO Kawa Community Partners Brand Ambassador ASPCC

I always tell my clients to ask for your resume through LinkedIn. The reason why is because you can cut and paste from LinkedIn into any email or letter of reference that you are sending to a prospective employer. You cannot however cut and paste a recommendation that comes in the form of an email into your LinkedIn profile.

Reference Request FAQs

  1. Is it okay to ask for a reference by email?

    Yes, it’s okay to ask for a reference by email. As long as you keep it professional and follow standard convention, there’s nothing wrong with using email to approach someone to ask for a reference.

  2. Do prospective employers actually contact references?

    Yes, prospective employers actually contact references. While it’s true that employers may not always speak with your references directly, they will most likely email them at the very least.

    You should always assume that whoever you submit as a reference will be contacted by employers, so be sure not to use a reference unless you’re sure that they are okay with being contacted.

  3. Can family members be references?

    No, family members generally cannot be references. Unless you are specifically asked for personal or character references, employers want references who can inform them about your professional experience and aptitude.

    Even if you have family members who work in your field or who you have worked with in the past, it is still best to choose references who do not have a personal connection to you.

  4. Can former employers refuse to give references?

    Yes, former employers can refuse to give references. Unless you have some sort of prior agreement in writing for a reference to be given, which is uncommon outside of internships, former employers are under no obligation to provide references.

    With this in mind, it’s a good idea to ask for more references than you strictly need, so that you will still have enough even if some refuse or do not respond.

Further Reading

  1. Granite State College – How to Ask for a Professional Reference

  2. The Best Schools – How to Ask for Professional References

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Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

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