Check out this article where we help you discover who are good references for a job application and give you information on how to reach out them.
Updated in 2023
References are an extremely important part of a company’s decision of whether or not to hire you. After you have impressed interviewers with your technical and behavioral interview responses, speaking to references is often the last step before the company gives you a yes or no. It is important that you pick a reference who will showcase the impact and value you can bring to the company.
Who are good references for a job application?
1. Past supervisors who had a good relationship with you.
When deciding who would be a good reference for a job application, the first question you should ask yourself is: would this person be happy to take time out of their day to talk about you with the company? Your second question should be: will they say positive things about me? If you had a good working relationship with your past supervisor, they should be the first name(s) on your list for references.
2. Higher-ups you worked with on a regular or semi-regular basis.
If you worked at a small company or a startup, you may have interacted with the CEO, CTO, or another high level employee on a somewhat regular basis–these executives could be good references for a job application. Remember, they might be busy, so you want to make sure that they will actually answer the phone or email when it comes time to talk about you. While a high level employee’s recommendation may sound impressive, they’re only a good reference for a job application if they have the time to discuss your work.
3. Former members of your team.
Not only does the company want to hear how you were as a direct report but they also want to know what it was like to work with you on a team. That is why teammates make good references as well. If you can find a member of your team who had been there longer than you or who was slightly more senior than you, that would be even better.
4. If you don’t have prior work experience: students who worked with you on groups or projects.
When you are looking for your first job, you might not have any references that fit the above categories. That’s ok! You can still showcase your skills and abilities with no work experience. Your fellow students can be good references for your job application. In your application, mention that you have no references from work experience, then provide the information for students who have worked closely with you on related student groups or projects. For example, if you are applying for marketing positions, you can give the name and email address of the student that works with you on the marketing committee for an on-campus event or something similar.
5. If you don’t have prior work experience: professors
Professors teaching topics that are related to the job can be good references for a job application–but only if you did well in the class and have a relationship with the professor. Asking a profession to be a job application reference is similar to asking high school teachers for college recommendations–they should know you well enough to accurately describe you and answer why you’re the best fit for the job.
How do you ask these people to be your reference?
Once you have determined who are good references for a job application, you need to let them know before you use their information. It is important to reach out to the potential references in your network before you list them as a reference because you want to make sure that they feel comfortable with the task and, of course, that they are aware that someone will reach out to them on your behalf.
The email you send should be polite, friendly, and appreciative of the time they will take out of their schedule to be your reference. Don’t make an assumption – you should always ask if it is something they would be willing to do. Feel free to mention it is more than one company that will reach out, so that you don’t need to email them every time. In addition, you should ask them for the best number and email address to use so that they know where to expect the company to contact them.
Here is an email template you can use to reach out to your references:
Hope you are doing well! It’s been a while since we last spoke, [add personal note here].
I am reaching out to see if you would be willing to be a reference for me in my job applications. There are a few companies that I am reaching final stages with, which is really exciting! I would love to put you down to be contacted for a few questions about the time we worked together. Would that be ok for you?
If so, please let me know the best email and number I can use for these references. I know you are busy so I really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to help me out!
All the best,
References are a critical part of the hiring process–knowing how to leverage your network to politely ask for a job reference can help set you apart from other candidates. Companies want to know how others perceive you, so a reference who gives them the best possible 360 view of you helps you stand out and land the job.
Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and young professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. With these tips and guidance, we’ve seen interview performance scores double for fellows in the program.
If you want to work with any of our advisors 1-on-1 to get help with finding job references or any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow.