How to request a job reference

At some point in your adulthood or during a job search process, you may be asked to provide a professional or personal reference for yourself. These references may be interviewed by phone or email or asked to provide a letter of recommendation as an endorsement of your capacity to succeed. The names you choose to provide can have a strong impact on your candidacy, and the importance of this decision should not be overlooked.

Who should I ask to be a reference?

When considering your options for references, it is important to think about the context in which the person knows you. References that are most informative and helpful are those who know different aspects of your work and who are willing to support your candidacy enthusiastically and knowledgeably.

Consider asking those who have observed you in settings similar to the positions you are applying for, or who understand your knowledge base in an area that is relevant to the position that you are interviewing for.

Examples of potential references may include:

  • Faculty members
  • Previous and current supervisors
  • Advisers
  • Colleagues

Typically, you wouldn’t ask family or friends to serve as a reference for you unless you are asked to provide a character reference. In those instances, it may be appropriate to ask a coach or a volunteer leader.

How many references should I provide?

Usually, three to five references are appropriate for a job search. Consider the combination of people you are providing and how they know you to ensure a diverse representation of your experiences. You want each reference to be able to highlight the skills and abilities that are most relevant to the position that you have expressed interest in.

Let your references know why you have asked them to be a reference for you and what areas of your experience you hope they will focus on when speaking about you.

Reference Checklist

Use this helpful checklist to get started with the reference process:

  • Ask your contact if they are willing to serve as a reference for you. If there is hesitation or refusal, know that this person may be encouraging you to seek someone else who would speak more positively or comprehensively on your behalf.
  • Obtain current contact information, including the reference’s name, title, organization, mailing address, phone number, and email address.
  • Supply a copy of your résumé to your references and provide the job description or information about the position to which you are applying.
  • Offer to meet with the reference to discuss any questions they may have about your goals.
  • Follow up to ask if they have been contacted as a reference.
  • Thank your references and let them know the outcome of your application.

Make a career counseling appointment to speak with someone who can help you with your next career move and the interview process. Contact Penn State World Campus Career Services at for assistance.