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Asking for a Reference

Who should I ask for a reference?

References are people that know you well enough to discuss your skills and experience, work ethic and habits, and character traits. This might be an instructor, a co-worker, or a recent boss. In some cases even a group member from a past project may be an appropriate reference.

How should I ask them for a reference?

The most common ways to ask for a reference are over email or in person. You should ask however you are most comfortable, but if you choose to have a conversation it's a good idea to send a follow up email recapping the conversation so that the details are in writing. No matter what format you choose, when asking for a reference it is always best to include specific details. Explain what position (or types of positions) you are applying for, including what kind of skills and work/character traits those positions require, and why you think they would be a good reference. Include when and how (e.g. by phone, email) they may be contacted and by whom.

Example Email

Hi Max,

I hope you had a good weekend!

I'm reaching out because I'm applying for a mechanical engineering internship at XYZ company and I'd love to list you as a reference. I thought of you because of the work we did together last summer and because you could really speak to my SolidWorks and fluid dynamics skills, as well as my character and work ethic.

Attached is my resume and the position description. I know the hiring team is especially looking for someone who can work independently and solve complex problems, so specifically, I am hoping you would be able to talk about  the work I did on the final report for the project.

Please let me know if you'd be willing to serve as a reference, and if so, your preferred contact information. I believe the call/email would come from Mr. Jameson at XYZ within the next two weeks.

Of course if you are busy or not comfortable, I completely understand. Thank you so much for considering.



Example Conversation

"So I'm applying for this mechanical engineering internship at XYZ and I was wondering if you'd be willing to serve as a reference? I feel like you really got to know me during that project we did last summer and could really speak to my SolidWorks and fluid dynamics skills, and of course my character and work ethic and such. The reference would probably be an email conversation or a short phone call sometime in the next two weeks. If you're busy or not comfortable I completely understand."

*says yes*

"Thank you so much! Can I email you my resume and the position description for review? And what would be your preferred contact information?"


*says no*

"No problem at all, thank you for considering."


How many references do I need?

It's a good idea to have two to three people in mind that you can call on when a reference is needed.

Should I put references on my resume?

You don't need to include references on your resume; use that valuable space for something else! If references are required, there will be a section on the application to enter reference contact information or you'll be asked to provide that information later in the interview process.