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

References are an extremely important part of a company’s decision of whether or not to hire you. 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. 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 with the company you are interested in? 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.

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. Remember, though, 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.

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. 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 and 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.

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 knows you and who can accurately describe why you are a good fit for what you want to do.

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 before you put their information down. It is important to reach out to them before you put 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 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 and I would love if I could 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, so give them the best possible 360 view of yourself as a candidate so you can land your dream 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 your any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow. 

Apply today.

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