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How to Ask for Job References from your Past Employers

Do you know that one in three jobseekers gets turned down because of a negative reference? As important as it is, job references can either make or break your chance of winning an employment. However, you can increase your chances of securing that job if you know how to ask for good references from your past employers.

Dazzling resume is essential to attract hiring managers, but job references could be more powerful than a piece of resume paper. A favorable reference from past employers can be your passport to a lucrative job offer. On the other hand, a negative reference may be the reason why you never get past the interview session. Needless to say, you have to make sure that job reference will not hinder you from landing your dream job. Get yourself a trustworthy reference who will give you a positive recommendation. 

Here are some things you can do to get the right job references.


Find “The One”

The most suitable person to ask for a job reference is your previous employers. To obtain a valid reference, you should not ask for it from just anyone. It is not wise to call a random past employer who you might not work well together with and ask for a reference all of sudden. Therefore, find a past employer who possesses good knowledge about your value and performance. Connect with a past employer who used to have a good professional impression of you in your previous job. This will be a great reference strategy, as you can be certain that they get your back.

Avoid asking for a reference from a past employer who you have never directly worked together with or who had never directly recognized your work experience. Your ex-direct supervisors can be the right person to ask for a job reference, because they know how you used to perform in professional settings. If you were once a good employer according to them, it is highly likely that they will give you a positive reference. You can also ask for a reference from someone in the human resource department. As they got a hold of your previous job assessment, they may be able to highlight your past achievement, which will be a great boost to your reference.


Be Straightforward and Specific

When you are asking past employers for a job reference, you need to be straightforward and specific. Make sure that your referees will neither overlook nor exaggerate your past achievements. It is noteworthy that a job reference that mentions very little to no achievement may affect the recruiter's judgment towards your future performance. On the other hand, an exaggerated job reference consisting of fake achievements may get you in trouble later on if you are expected to ace in things you never actually did.

People come and go within an organization, so there is a chance that those you ask for a reference might not be able to remember your past achievements. Help your referees to refresh their memory regarding your excellent performance in the past and mention one or two achievements you want to highlight. In doing this, ask them questions such as, "Do you remember when we worked on this project together?" or "Perhaps you could highlight about the time we aced this big client's project?". Make sure that the recommendation is as relevant as possible to the position you are currently applying for. Specific job references can be a really great help if your past employer’s impression of you matches the requirements for this new job you are applying for.


Keep Them Informed

Upon contacting your past employers, let them know what you are expecting from them and how you need their recommendation. Is it through a letter? Or will potential recruiters contact your past employers directly? If it is the latter, then you need to first ask for their consent about sharing phone numbers, as some people might mind about this. Once you have, inform them on how and at what time they are going to be contacted, if possible.

You also need to give your referees as much background knowledge as possible regarding your job application. What company and position are you applying for? What is your potential employer expecting from you? These sets of specific information can help your past employers give a solid recommendation for you. Always appreciate their help by maintaining a good relationship with them.


The most important part of working is always leaving on a good term when it happens. Whether you will be working with your employer for the very long run or just for a little while, always make the best out of your job. When time comes and you decide to resign, you can rely on the good relationship you have built and earn a good job reference for your next career journey. Good luck!


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