Sometimes the quest for BALANCE – where you balance your wants and needs with those of the other person – is very practical. Case in point: reference requests. You want a good quality recommendation, while the person providing it wants to do it with a reasonable amount of effort (as little as possible, that is!).
Having worked with a good number of people throughout my career, it’s not too surprising that I get a lot of requests to be a reference from people that have worked for me. What I have learned is that all reference requests are NOT created equal. I’ll explain what I mean, and at the end, I’ll give you some tips on how to request a reference in a thoughtful way, that respects the time of others AND increases your chances of getting a strong reference.
REQUESTS THAT ARE TOO SHORT
- Option 1: Hi! I’m applying for a new job. Are you willing to be a reference?
This one is too short. I don’t know what the job is, what I might want to highlight in a reference, and I likely won’t be very prepared when the person calls.
REQUESTS THAT ARE TOO LONG
- Option 2: Hi! How are you? [Insert 5 paragraphs about everything you’ve been up to for the last two years.] Anyway, I’m super excited blah blah blah new job blah blah blah. Will you be a reference?
This one is too long. Let me know what you’re asking for at the start of the message. While it’s okay to provide a quick update on what you’ve been up to, a copy of your recent resume can do that more succinctly. Focus on what you want and need from me.
THE IDEAL REQUEST FOR A REFERENCE
- Option 3: Hi! I am applying for X position at Y company, and I am hoping you’d be willing to serve as a reference. They are looking for the following qualifications, so you could mention these skills that I demonstrated when I worked for you. I am attaching my resume and the full job description. If you’re willing to be a reference, I’ll pass along your info and someone will call you next week. Thank you so much!
This one is just right! It lets me know what you want and need, explains the job, and even does some of my homework about what I could talk about.
So, if you want to maximize your chances of getting a top notch reference (let’s face it, if I am annoyed by the request, it’s not going to help your case).
TIPS FOR REQUESTING A REFERENCE:
- Clearly, state your request. Clarify what you are asking for upfront instead of making me read a long email to figure it out.
- Be respectful of my time. Do some of the work for me by including enough details about the position and necessary skills to help me know what information is most likely to be useful. Don’t be shy about offering suggestions of what to highlight if you have a couple skills you think are spot on.
- Provide some expectations. Is it a phone reference or do I have to write something? Provide any details about who I should expect to hear from and when.
- Express gratitude. Enough said.
The reality is that the better the request, the better the reference. Remember that those who get asked probably get asked a LOT, so help your reference be ready to be a good advocate for you. That’s the beauty and value of BALANCE – finding your way to the win-win solution.
Here is a video on “Requesting a Reference in a Thoughtful Way.”