After scouring the web for the perfect job, tailoring your resume and cover letter accordingly, and perfecting the (multi-stage, mind you) interview process, submitting a list of your references seems like an almost-too-easy step: List three names, slap on their contact info, and shoot it all over to the hiring manager, right?
Not so fast. Remember, even if you’ve aced all the other steps in the process, this one still really matters. An enthusiastic reference can be your ticket to a great offer; a lackluster, even mediocre, one can be the reason another candidate gets the job. And the difference between the former and the latter depends a lot on what you do.
The first step is choosing the right references, which you can read all about in Muse Master Coach Jenny Foss’ article, “Your Guide to Picking and Getting the Best Possible References.” (Cheat sheet: Select people who know you and your relevant work well, who will speak highly of you, and who you’ve kept in reasonable touch with over the years.)
The second step is asking them nicely—and strategically. That’s right, you don’t want to just cross your fingers and hope for the best, you also want to make it as easy as possible for your contacts to sing your praises to the hiring manager in a way that’ll make it clear that you’re the one for the job.
How do you do that? We’ve made it super-easy with a fill-in-the-blanks email template:
I hope all is well! How have things been with you and [the person’s company, organization, or personal interest]?
I’m reaching out because I’ve been interviewing for a [position name] role at [company], and I’d love to list your name as a reference, if you’re willing. I thought of you because we’ve [ways in which you’ve worked together], and you could speak to my [key skills and abilities needed in the new position].
I’ve attached my current resume and the position description for your reference. I know the hiring team is particularly looking for someone who [very short description of key elements of the role], so specifically, I’m hoping you can talk about:
- [1-2 skill, abilities, or talents that are key to the position]
- [Specific project you worked on that’s relevant to the role]
- [Key differentiator between you and other candidates]
Please let me know if you’d be willing to serve as a reference and, if so, your preferred contact info and any other details you need from my end. I believe the [call, email] will come from [hiring manager or recruiter’s name] at [company] around [time frame].
And, of course, if you’re busy or not comfortable, I completely understand. Thank you in advance for your time, and let me know how I can return the favor!
All the best,
In short, you want this email to give your contact all the details he or she needs to understand your current work and skill set, the role you’re applying to, and what you’re hoping to emphasize, as well as an easy way out if he or she’s not comfortable serving as your reference. And this is important: If you do not get a very enthusiastic response in return, you’re probably better off moving on to another person. (And if your contact’s typically very responsive and is taking a long time to get back to you, you might want to interpret that as unenthusiastic.)
Oh, and one final step: No matter what happens—whether you get the job or not—follow up with your contacts and thank them for their time (or, better yet, return the favor!). Most people are happy to serve as references, but showing your appreciation will help keep those relationships strong.
Adrian was The Muse’s first employee and Editor-in-Chief who built the Muse content team from the ground up. Now, she is the founder of Sweet Spot Content, which helps world-class brands and thought leaders tell their stories. She's also the author of Your Year Off, a digital guide to taking a sabbatical and traveling the world. Say hi on Twitter and Instagram.More from this Author