It’s that time of year when reference requests quadruple. As an employment attorney, business etiquette expert and avid blogger, young readers often solicit advice about how to ask for professional references when they don’t have a tremendous amount of experience. We offer our responses to common questions from curious job seekers as a guide to success when requesting references.     

Q: How do students/young professionals ask for references when they don’t have much experience?
Consider the source. Department chairs, Deans, Professors, Business Owners, Bankers, Employers, Work Study Managers, and Internship Supervisors are all potential reference sources.
An excellent reference may help compensate for a sparse resume, so choose professional references wisely. Ask as graciously and politely as possible, letting them know that you value their opinion. Ask if they will speak positively on your behalf. You may want to acknowledge your lack of experience; and add that their advocacy will help your future growth.
Remember to ask before listing anyone as a reference. Doing so without permission is discourteous and may lead to an unfavorable conversation, and a less than favorable reference.

Q: What if they only have had one internship?
If your professional experience is limited or if you just graduated, expand your list of possible references to include professors, mentors, academic advisors, and coaches. These people can attest not only to your skills, but to your character.

Q: How do students and young professional ask — via email, by phone, or in person?
If the reference is a current colleague or professor, approach them and ask if they have a moment to discuss future opportunities with you. Otherwise, a phone call or email sent during business hours is the best method for asking for a reference.

Q: What is the best way for any professional to phrase their outreach?
Instead of asking, “Can I cite you as a reference?” phrase the request closer to, “Do you think that you know my work well enough to provide a positive reference?” asking them about their ability to assess your performance. This approach will lead to a more beneficial reference.
Explain the purpose of the reference, and why you are pursuing this opportunity. Explain why you believe they are your choice as a good reference. Did they collaborate with you on an important project? Are they familiar with your organizational skills or your interpersonal communication abilities? Let them know why you’re reaching out. Whatever their response, thank them for their time and for being approachable.

Q: Anything else young professionals want to consider when asking for references?
Be specific in your request about whether you are asking for a reference or a letter of recommendation, as some applications require one or the other. If you need a letter, give them at least two weeks notice ahead of time.
On average, employers ask for 3 references on an application. Start making a list of confirmed references, including their title, phone number, email, and nature of the relationship.
Provide any applicable deadlines, depending on the opportunity, that way they’re well informed and up to date with any changes.
Asking is just the first step – remembering to sincerely thank them afterward is just as important. Be sincere and express thanks for their time away from their busy schedules. A handwritten note is a sincere way to show gratitude and adds a personal touch.

We hope this Q&A answers your queries, and we’d like to hear from you if you have more questions. Best wishes with your endeavors!

Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.

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