For new graduates or those just entering the workforce, asking for references when you don’t have much experience can be daunting. Before you give up and leave the references portion of the application blank, consider these ten tips for building your reference list and boosting your chances to land the job!
- Always Ask: Remember to ask before listing someone as a reference. Doing so without permission is discourteous and may lead to an unfavorable conversation, and a poor reference.
- Choose Carefully: A good reference may help make up 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.
- Character Witness: 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.
- Request Method: 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.
- Phrasing the Question: 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 will lead to a more beneficial reference.
- Pinpoint the Purpose: 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.
- The Nitty-Gritty: Be specific about your request; 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.
- Make a List, Check it Twice: 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.
- Due Dates: Provide an application date, depending on the opportunity, that way they’re well informed and up to date with any changes.
- Going Above and Beyond: Asking is just the first step – remembering to 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.
Whether you’re applying for your first internship or asking a professor to vouch for your research skills, these tips will help you overcome the challenge of a sparse resume and obtain the references you need. Don’t be shy, reach out to those who know you both personally and professionally, and don’t forget the thank you note!
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Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture (formerly Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide). 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.