Who Can You Ask To Be Your Reference?

Posted by GradConnection

So you’ve progressed to the next stages of the recruitment process for your internship/graduate role – congratulations! The catch? The interviewer has asked you to provide two up-to-date references, and you suddenly remember the last people you had down on your resume are your high school English teacher and supervisor from your summer job two years ago that you’re pretty sure doesn’t remember who you are. Don’t panic! We outline our ultimate guide to getting a reference below, including ideas for who to ask and a message template to help with the actual asking! 

Who can you ask? 

If no-one comes top of mind to be your referee of choice, it’s ok! It’s completely normal to not have an extensive network of connections or past employers to ask when you’re still in your early career. The people who you could ask may surprise you.  

A Professional/Employment Reference 

This is typically what potential employers/recruiters are looking for when they ask for references. A profession reference is someone who you’ve worked with previously and are the optimal person to speak about your work experience, ethics, skills and behaviour while on the job. 

  • Former Supervisor/Manager
    • This could be anyone from your part-time/casual jobs in retail and hospitality, to a supervisor from your previous internship! 
  • Former Hiring Manager/Recruiter
    • A person from the HR department who was responsible for hiring you. 
  • A Former or Current Colleague
    • This could fall into the category of ‘character reference’ too (see below). It’s generally a good idea to choose someone who is slightly senior than you and had some sort of experience assigning you tasks or collaborating on projects together.  

A Character Reference 

If you don’t have enough professional references, a character reference is also a good option to turn to and can provide insights into your attitude and work capabilities.  

  • University Tutors
    • They are a great option because they typically have more 1-1 personal interactions with you in class and have a better idea of how you work.  
  • Lecturers
    • Typically have less direct interactions with you than a tutor, but if you’ve done particularly well in a subject or have an established rapport, lecturers are also a good shout. 
  • Academic Advisors
    • Are more similar to personal mentors and will likely have a good idea of your personality, work ethic and career aspirations. 
  • Personal Mentors
    • Some other people you could reach out to who have seen you work in a leadership or professional capacity include:
      • Coach
      • Camp leader
      • Volunteer leader
      • Student Society president
      • Even an older family friend!  

Choosing the Right Person 

It goes without saying that you should have some sort of a positive established relationship with your reference – the last thing you want is your request backfiring on you! They should have a favourable view of your skills and at minimum a general understanding of your personality and capabilities. Ideally, they should also be relevant to the industry for the role you’re applying for. 

Putting in Your Request 

Email is usually the way to go when asking someone to be your reference – it's less confronting than a phone call and easier to politely decline, making it less awkward for everyone. If your potential referee’s number is the only contact detail you have, try sending through a text. 

  1. Give them an overview of the role you’re applying for 
  2. Recap how you know each other and why you think they’d make a good reference 
  3. Put forward the question (without pressure!) 
  4. Catch them up to date with what you’ve been up to – it's a good idea to attach your resume 

Example Message

Hi [Name],  

I hope you are well. I am emailing as I am currently applying for a [Position Name] with [Company Name] and have reached the next stages of the interview process. I would like to ask if you would be willing to be my reference.  

Professional Reference: As my manager while working at [Company Name], I believe you have a good understanding of my work ethic and demonstrated abilities in [Field/Industry]. 

Academic Reference: As my [Tutor/Lecturer] for [Subject Name], I believe you have a good understanding of my skills and knowledge in [Field/Subject] and leadership capabilities while being able to work well in a team. 

Personal Mentor: As my [Coach/Camp Supervisor], I believe you have a good understanding of my work ethic, leadership and teamwork capabilities that I could translate to this role. 

I would need to provide your name and best contact details and the interviewer may be in touch to ask you about my experience, skills and work ethic. Of course I also understand if you are currently too busy with other commitments and will be unable to be a reference at this time. 

I have attached my resume for your reference – please let me know if you need any more information. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. 

What Next? 

  • Give them adequate time to respond – it's always a good idea to plan ahead and ask your supervisor to be your reference before you leave every role/internship 
  • Reach out to multiple people (in order of who you think will be most likely to respond) – don't put all your eggs in one basket, and if they all say yes – the more the merrier! 
  • Say thank you – no matter what the response is, be sure to express your thanks for their time and consideration, remember – we don’t want to burn bridges early on in your career 
  • Keep them posted – now your reference has said yes, remember to give them regular updates on the status of your application so they aren’t caught off guard by a surprise phone call! 


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