Would you be my reference?
January 8, 2009 8:20 PM   Subscribe

What is the script for asking past employers if I can use them as a reference?

What do I say in emails asking former employers if they'd be willing to be a reference for me (when applying for jobs)? This may be very basic, but I have horrid anxiety and totally freeze up about things like this.

I left these jobs on OK terms - I've never been fired or gotten bad reviews or anything - but I have a really limited pool of bosses or even coworkers to ask, so I feel like some of the people I ask might be kind of surprised that I'm asking them.

*Do I need to make small talk and ask them about how they or the company are doing? Do I need to give them an update on my life? (This part is tough for me because I've been unemployed for a while and I feel like I don't have anything specific to say.)

*I don't have one specific job in mind that I'm asking them to serve as references for...is that normal/okay?

*Is it weird to track someone down if they've switched companies? In one case this person was my supervisor for a six month temp job, so it feels strange and stalkerish to be hunting her down. (But I probably need to in order to compile at least three reference people.)
posted by needs more cowbell to Work & Money (6 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
1) If you're emailing them, don't small talk. Don't update them on your life. It's totally irrelevant. All that's relevant is whether or not they'll serve as a positive reference. Besides, it's email... get to the point!

2) You don't need a specific job in mind. Many people line up their references before sending out their first resume.

3) Not really. If that person was your boss, that fact hasn't changed. And, if you want to get ahold of them, you'll have to track them down.

As for the script of the email:
Dear [person],
I'm currently job hunting. I believe that I did solid work when I was [in your employ | your cubemate | your lover]. I hope that you feel the same and would be willing to serve as a positive reference for me. If you think you could do that, I'd appreciate a note back to that effect.

Thank you for your time,
needs more cowbell
posted by Netzapper at 8:51 PM on January 8, 2009

If you don't have a specific job in mind then you'll probably have to play the small talk and come around to "oh, by the way would you mind ... at some point in the future?" Try the small talk with a friend or with a co-worker you feel more comfortable with. Small talk will always be silly but it's invaluable for situations like this. After a little practice, it's no longer embarrassing.

I think it's generally recommended that you don't ask someone specifically about being listed as a reference until requested by the new, potential employer.

Most people list "references upon request" on their resume so their references aren't inundated by a resume in circulation. It isn't weird to track someone down. It's common practice. I always contact in advance the persons I provide as references, 1) it makes them feel special 2) it allows them time to develop something glowing about me.

Consider setting up a Linked In account. It makes situations like this really easy to deal with. It would also allow some of your future colleagues to stalk you for references!
posted by ezekieldas at 8:53 PM on January 8, 2009

It's best to use as a reference folks who you are on good terms with and that it would not make you uncomfortable to ask if they would mind being a reference.

Working from your angle, though, I'd be sure to ask them if you can count on them to give a good review. Even prime them with things you'd like them to say about you.

As a lesson: years ago when I asked profs for references, many of them told me to write a letter of recemmendation for myself and submit it to them. Most times the letter I got back was substantively the same letter I had submitted, on department letterhead, with their signature at the bottom. Point being, be sure to know what they will say about you. And if they don't know what to say, give them something to say.

That said, it doesn't hurt to schmooze them up a bit.
posted by valentinepig at 9:55 PM on January 8, 2009

When I get this emails from past employees, it's usually like this:

"Hello, -NAME-

How are you? Hope things are well with you and -NAME OF BUSINESS-

I'm applying for a job at so and so and wondered if it was ok I used you as reference?


I'll be applying for jobs in the future, is it ok if I use you a reference?

Take care,
blah blah

Then I shoot'em an email saying "Yeah, how ya been, blah blah" unless I'm super busy, then it's "Yeah, no problem, hope the interview/hunt/whatever goes well"

What you're doing is common and not a big deal. It's one of the most basic forms of networking
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:17 AM on January 9, 2009

I'd send email:
Dear Jane,
I'd like to use you as a reference in my current job search. To help you remember my work, I've attached my resume. My dates of employment were: xx/xx/xxxx to xx/xx/xxxx. I worked on the x, y, and z projects, and I consider my notable accomplishments to be:
- blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
- blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
- blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

I enjoyed working with you at MegaCorp, and hope that the widget reconditioning business continues to beat this economy. Please do let me know if I may use you as a reference. I really appreciate your time on this. Best,

Previous employers should be a networking resource in your job search, so check in.
posted by theora55 at 6:49 AM on January 9, 2009

I ran into an old boss in a grocery store this past weekend--I had not seen him in many years and I had left the field we were in when I quit that job. We caught up for a minute and then parted ways. Only then, of course, did it occur to me that as I have recently decided to return to my old career, I could take this terribly awkward opportunity to ask if I could use him as a reference. He had moseyed on to another aisle, but I chased him down and asked him for a reference. It felt terrible and embarrassing, of course.

This is how I rationalized it: Like in your situation, my boss liked me and I did good work for him; he would like to see me succeed. Perhaps more importantly, part of a supervisor's job description is to give references. You are not the first to ask this of them--it is part of what a supervisor does. (Finally, in my case, my boss was probably fairly used to me being awkward and weird.)

I'm wishing you well in your job hunt. Send some luck my way!
posted by thebrokedown at 4:00 PM on January 9, 2009

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