Cover Letter Reference Request Sample

Sample Letters and Email Messages Asking for a Reference

If you're applying for a job, it's likely you'll need a reference. It's a good idea to get references lined up before you start a job search. That way you'll have a list of people who can recommend you ready to share with prospective employers. You can ask for a reference with a phone call, or an email or a hard-copy letter, but either way, you'll want to write your request carefully. 

Here are tips on how to ask for a reference, as well as sample letters that you can use as a guideline while writing your own reference request.

Choose Your References Wisely

The person giving you a reference may need to write a letter, fill out a questionnaire, respond to an email, or speak to someone from human resources on the phone. If the person doesn't know you well, it'll show. Choose someone who thinks highly of you, and can speak fluently about your career and talents. It's important to make sure that the individual who is recommending you for employment can give you not just a reference, but a good reference. Here are tips for choosing the best person to provide a job reference. 

Always Give the Person You're Asking an Out

Make sure to give the person an easy way to decline providing you with a reference. A bad reference can be the difference between you getting a job offer— or not. It would be preferable to have the person decline to provide a reference, rather than write a halfhearted or negative letter.

In your reference request, you can say things like "I know end-of-the-year evaluations are due soon, so if you're too busy to provide a reference, I completely understand" or "It's been five years since we worked together, so if you don't feel comfortable speaking to someone about my work habits after so long, please just let me know." 

Give Your Reference a Heads-Up

Do not give out anyone's name as a reference without their permission and without knowing what they are going to say about you. The individual who is giving you a reference needs to know ahead of time that they may be contacted regarding a reference for you. Once you have permission, let your reference providers know when you share their names with prospective employers.

Ask Nicely

Former co-workers and managers are under no obligation to serve as a reference. You are asking for a favor, so be polite and warm in your request. You can also mention why you thought the person would be an ideal reference. 

How to Ask for a Reference Letter

References can be requested in writing or by email. If there are forms the recommender needs to complete, you may want to send an email message asking for the recommendation, then follow up with a written letter and the forms.

In your letter requesting a reference, it can be helpful to provide the potential recommender with background information, including your current resume and a link to the job description (or a short summary). You can also briefly mention specific qualities and skills of yours that you would like your reference to mention.  If you have any information about how the company will be reaching out to the recommender — phone, email, etc. — you can include those details as well. 

It's a good idea to review sample letters asking for a reference to get ideas for your own letters. These samples, both written and email, include the best ways to phrase your request and how to ask someone to be your reference.

Thank Your Reference Writer

When you get a new job, don't forget to send a thank you note to the individuals who provided you with a reference.

Not only will it let your reference giver know that they have helped you. It will also let them know how much you appreciated the job search help.

Letter Samples Requesting a Reference

Sample Reference Request Letter

Occasionally – but not always – job advertisements will ask that applicants provide three references along with their resume for consideration. Ideally, you will have departed your previous jobs on a good standing with your employers. In the best case scenario, they will have provided you with a general letter of reference attesting to your work performance with their organization. However, what do you do if you don’t have such a letter – or if you are a recent college or high school graduate without work experience?

In these cases, you are going to have to write a reference request letter to someone who can vouch for your potential as an employee.

Ideally, for people who have work experience, professional references should be provided from former supervisors who are familiar with your work history, strengths, and hard and soft skills. If you no longer remember the name of a supervisor or they have moved on, a second option is to contact the Human Resources (HR) department of your previous employers for a reference; they should still have your personnel file available, from which they can glean the information needed for a reference.

If you are a recent graduate, you will probably be writing reference letter requests to former teachers, coaches, work study supervisors, pastors, or the leaders of community groups or extracurricular clubs in which you have participated.

Think carefully about who ask to be your references – you want to select people that you know will say positive things about you.

In order to do this, they should be people with whom you maintained a good rapport and who “remember your name.”

What to Include in a Reference Request Letter

When you write a reference request letter, you should provide:

  • An introduction explaining to the recipient your need for a reference
  • A brief reminder to the recipient of the details of your connection – the dates for which you worked for their organization, the nature of your job, and any unique or outstanding contributions you made to your employer
  • The deadline by which you need to submit references
  • Your sincere thanks for their assistance in serving as a reference for you
  • Your contact information

It’s also a good idea to attach a copy of your resume and copies of the job ads to which you are applying. This will give the recipient valuable information they can use as talking points should an employer contact them to ask about your work history with them.

The following sample letter demonstrates how to ask someone to provide a reference for employment. This letter can be sent via email or paper mail. If you request a reference via email, include the following in the subject line of your message: Your Name - Reference Request.

Requesting a Reference Letter Sample

Dear Mr. Doe,

I am writing to ask whether it would be possible for you to provide a reference for me.

As you know, I worked as a [insert Job Title] for you between [start Date] and [end Date], during which time I maintained a perfect attendance record and earned high scores on my performance evaluations. If you would be able to attest to my qualifications for employment and to the skills I attained during my tenure at ABC Company, I would sincerely appreciate it.

I am in the process of seeking employment as a [insert Job Title] and a positive reference from you would enhance my prospects of achieving my career goals; I need to have my list of references ready to submit by June 18, 20--.

Please let me know if there is any information I can provide regarding my experience to assist you in giving me a reference; I’ve attached my resume for your review. I can be reached at or (111) 111-1111.

Thank you for your consideration.


John Smith

More About References

Reference Letter Samples
Visit this link to view sample reference letters and recommendation letters, letter samples for character references, and letters asking for a reference.

How to Request a Character Reference
Looking for your first job? Concerned about the references your employer might give you? Consider using a character reference (personal reference) in addition to or as an alternative to employment reference letters.


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