Here's How to Ask for a Reference (So You Can Get That Dream Job)

November 30th, 2018 at 5:00pm

Halloween may be long gone, but asking someone to talk about you to a potential employer can be just as scary. In fact, figuring out how to ask for a reference and just approaching someone in the first place can be a daunting task. References are important in helping you land a job, whether it’s your first job or the next job that takes you a step closer to your career. We talked to college girls who’ve been there. They share their tips on how to approach the topic, how the conversation should go, and following up after the fact to build a solid relationship and network.

Do references matter?

First things first, can you get away with not having a reference? Molly Stadnicki, recent University of Connecticut (UConn) Class of 2018 graduate, says that having a reference means there’s a person that can vouch for the hard work you put in. “Different people serve different purposes in your life and know you in different ways. So the insight a reference may give about you could say way more than what’s on your résumé,” Stadnicki says. UConn senior Emma Hungaski also agreed that references are important. She mentioned that it’s the only way for potential employers or post-grad schools will hear from others about your talents. “Having a reference really humanizes a résumé,” added UConn senior Sokaina Asar. Having a professional who can vouch for you will just round out your amazing skills on your résumé and put a voice to paper.

Who do you ask for a reference?

So, we’ve now established that you can’t really get out of getting a reference. The next step is to figure out who to ask to be your reference. UConn journalism and communication major Lianne Zana says to take into consideration people that you already know. Are these people going to build you up when a stranger asks how they would describe you? It helps to have someone who is reliable and who you have had a positive relationship with. Sit down and create a list of people that come to mind that you have connected with professionally beyond a superficial level. When it comes to classes, reach out to professors that you’ve had positive interactions with. “I try to think about classes where I have spoken a lot or made it clear I’m interested in a topic, and think about if the professor noticed that or not,” Hungaski says. Having a list of potential people to ask that can speak specifically to positions that you are applying to will also be helpful.

Okay, you know who you’re asking. So how do you ask for a reference?

So, you have your list. The next step is to actually reach out to those people. Stadnicki suggests simply asking. “If they don’t feel that they can give you the review you’re looking for, they’ll tell you,” Stadnicki says. It also helps to describe what you are applying to as well, so they can get a fuller picture of what you’re looking to do. If you are hesitant to ask someone in person, then a straightforward email can be just as effective as well.

It’s also important to keep your references updated on your progress as well. Your references believed in you enough to vouch for you, so send them a handwritten note to thank them for taking the time to speak for you. By keeping constant communication with your references, you can strengthen the professional relationship. “Whoever you choose as your reference put in the time and effort to sell you, and they deserve to be updated every now and then and also be shown a great deal of appreciation,” Zana said. Show your reference that you care about their involvement in landing the next step in your career.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a reference. Go out and be the boss babe that you are. It can be scary asking someone more accomplished to speak for you, but you won’t regret it.


Have any success stories (or failures) on how you got your references? Comment below!

Opening image by Nicole.


  • Kimberly Nguyen

    Kim is a junior at the University of Connecticut studying psychology and journalism. She loves going to the gym in the mornings to start her day and always finds her newest tunes while building up a sweat. Kim enjoys doing portrait photography as a creative outlet and to meet and connect with new people on campus. If not in a classroom, she can be found at the school newspaper either working or sleeping with her eyes open in case news comes up.