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Who are good references for a job application and how to reach out (with email template) – 2021 update

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 2021

Most companies require reference checks before making a hiring decision. After you have impressed them with your technical and behavioral interview responses, speaking to references is often the last step before they give you a yes or no. Therefore, it is important that these conversations showcase the impact and value you can bring to the company.

Who are good references for a job application?

1. Past supervisors with whom who had a good relationship.

The first question you should ask yourself is: would this person be happy to take time out of their day to talk about you? And 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. That is because this person knows the most about how you are as an employee and their responses will be the most important.

2. Higher-ups with whom you worked on a regular or semi-regular basis.

If you worked at a small company or a startup and you interacted with the CEO, CTO, or any other high level employees on a somewhat regular basis, you might consider using them as a reference. These are often impressive people to speak on your behalf, which is why it would be a good idea to ask. Remember, though, they are definitely busy people. So, you want to make sure that they will actually answer the phone or email when it comes.

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 mark that in your application to the company. Then, when you are asked for references, give 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. Just make sure you let your teammates know you are giving your information to a company for a reference check, so they are prepared.

5. If you don’t have prior work experience: professors

You can also ask professors of classes you have taken in topics that are related to the job. But, make sure that you have done well in the class and that you have a relationship with the professor. It’s similar to asking high school teachers for college recommendations. You want to ask someone who can accurately describe why you are a good fit.

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How do you ask these people to be your reference?

Once you have determined who you want to ask, you need to let them know. It is important to reach out to them before you put them as a reference. This is because you want to make sure that they feel comfortable with the task. And, of course, they need to be aware that someone will reach out on your behalf.

The email you send should be polite, friendly, and appreciative. Remember, they are taking time 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 if it is more than one company that will reach out. That way, 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 outreach.

Here is an email template you can use to reach out to your references:

Hi [name],

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,

[your name]


Asking for references is to be expected in your job search. So, knowing how to reach out to your contacts politely and get the best possible reviews is important. Companies want to know how others perceive you. This gives them the best possible 360 view of you as a candidate so you can land your dream job.

Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. With these tips and guidance, we’ve seen interview scores double for fellows in the program.

If you want to work with any of our mentors 1-on-1 to get help with your any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow. 

Apply today.

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