How to Ask for a Reference Via Email With 12 Samples

how to ask for a reference via email

At some point in your job search process or academic program, you may be asked to provide references. 

Employers and academic administrators often rely on these references to fact-check your credibility. They need to substantiate what you’ve stated in your resume or academic application. 

Or, as seen in most cases, you may set out to get your connections to reference you without the receiving party even asking. 

For example, if you want to apply for a job and have a connection who can quickly get you through the door, you can ask them to reference you. 

But how do you write this email and guarantee a positive outcome

In this article, you will learn about how to ask for a good reference via email and find some examples you can learn from. 

What is a reference letter email, and why does it matter? 

A reference letter email is an email message in which a reference letter is either requested or the letter itself is sent. 

Reference letters are typically used in employment, academic, or personal settings where a third party’s opinion about a person’s qualities, characteristics, skills, and qualifications is needed. So the reference email attests to a person’s character, skills, and work experience. 

It’s often given by someone you’ve worked with closely and can vouch for your good qualities. For instance, your work reference is provided by your supervisor, employer, or even a co-worker. 

A reference letter email is an important part of an application process, whether it’s for a job or academic reasons. A written reference letter acts as solid proof of your experience and provides a third party who can attest to your credibility. 

When to ask for a reference? 

Asking for a reference can be key in several different situations. Here are some scenarios when you should consider asking for a reference:

1. When applying for a job

This is perhaps the most common scenario. When applying for a job, especially if you’re moving on from a previous role, a positive reference (from your former boss, for example) can easily help you land a new job or take you to the short list of job search prospects. 

Employers request job references to get a better understanding of your work ethic, skills, and experiences from previous jobs. 

Typically, you’d ask for a potential reference during the application process or after the job interview when it’s clear that the potential employer is interested in your candidacy for the new position.

2. When applying to academic programs

This work in the same way as a job reference. When applying for an academic program (like a graduate, scholarship, doctoral program, etc), you’ll often need to provide good references. These usually come from professors or academic advisors who can speak to your academic abilities and qualifications. 

In general, it’s best to ask for these references a few weeks or even months before your application deadlines.

3. When applying for internships

Internships are opportunities for students or young professionals to gain practical experience in their field of interest. 

And because internships can be highly competitive, a reference letter can give you an edge over other applicants by providing the hiring manager with third-party validation of your skills, abilities, and character.

4. When renting a property

Landlords often require both character references and contact references to confirm that you are a reliable tenant. These can come from previous landlords or, if you’re renting for the first time, from employers, professors, or other non-family individuals who can vouch for your reliability.

5. When applying for some professional certifications or licenses

Many professional certifications and licenses require applicants to submit professional references as part of the application process. These could include certifications for fields like project management, human resources, nursing, and others. 

Licensing bodies for professions such as medicine, law, and education also typically require professional references. These references are intended to verify your professional competency, character, and ethical behavior. 

For example, if you’re applying for a professional engineering license, you might need references from other licensed engineers who can vouch for your engineering experience and skills. 

6. When volunteering for something

Certain volunteer positions, particularly those involving children, the elderly, or other vulnerable populations, may require references. 

The references are used to help confirm your character, reliability, and suitability for the volunteer role. This could be particularly relevant for positions like a volunteer tutor, a mentor for at-risk youth, or a hospice volunteer. 

If you’re volunteering for a position and need references, consider asking people who can attest to the qualities and skills relevant to the position. This could include past teachers, employers, or colleagues, or even someone from a different volunteer position you’ve held. 

Who should you ask for a reference? 

Even though the people you ask for references will always depend on your goals with reference requests, you can’t just choose anyone to give you a reference. You should always choose people with the right profiles, people who can actually get you through the door. 

That’s because if the person referencing you (be it their name or their position) does not inspire any credibility or influence the receiving party in any way, you might as well ask your grandmother to write you a lovely reference. 

So, suppose you are applying for a job and are considering attaching a reference letter; the first box you must check is to choose people you have worked with or worked for. They should be people who know you well or speak highly of you. These people include:

  • Previous employer
  • Current employer
  • Professor or Teacher
  • Former clients or customers
  • Current colleagues or coworkers

As well, these people also need to come from a managerial or leadership position. Asking your co-worker with whom you have the same position to write you a reference letter can be good. But it won’t hold the same effect as if you had it written by your employer or professor. 

Reference request email format: What to include in a reference request email, and how to structure it? 

Ready to write a reference request but don’t know how? We’ve got you covered. Here, we will show you what you should include in a reference request email. 

Reference request email subject line: How to write a subject line for an email asking for a reference

The goal of your subject line is always to get your recipient’s attention and prompt them to read your email. Chances are, you’ll be reaching out to someone who knows you, so all you have to do is simply state the purpose of your email, which is to request a reference letter from them. 

Here are a couple of examples: 

  1. “Request for reference letter for [job title/university name] application”
  2. “Reference letter request – [your full name]”
  3. “Seeking your support for a reference letter”
  4. “[your name] – Reference request for [job/internship]”
  5. “Requesting your assistance for a reference letter”
  6. “[your name’s] reference letter request for [purpose]”
  7. Would you reference me?

Reference request email body: How to write an email asking for a reference

Here is how to write the reference request email body.

Start with a polite greeting 

Start off the email with a polite greeting, as it makes you sound respectful and professional. Some examples include:

“Dear + name,” “Hello + name,” or “Hi + name.”

Typically, this will depend on the relationship between you and the person you are asking to reference you. But as a general rule, avoid using generic terms such as “Dear sir/ma” or casual greeting terms with your recipients, as it may give them a wrong perspective. 

Write a good opening line: State your purpose and remind them of your relationship

Your email opening line should state the reason why you’re emailing your recipient. A good way of doing this is to remind them of your relationship. Build rapport with them, connect the dots between the past and present, and where you currently stand in your career path. 

Here are a few examples of opening lines you can emulate when requesting a reference letter:

  • “As you may recall, I had the pleasure of working under your supervision at the African Leadership University (ALU), where I was able to learn and grow in my role as a project assistant.”
  • “You probably remember our time together at [company/organization/university]. I learned so much from you then, and I’m hoping to lean on your expertise once more.”
  • “Our projects at [company] were always such a success; I’m still grateful for our great teamwork. Now, I’m hoping to ask for your help as I’m exploring new professional opportunities.”

Ask them for the reference letter 

As you’ve established the context and the reason for your email, the next step is to directly ask for the reference letter. You don’t have to be around the bush; simply go for it. Here is how you do it.

Directly ask for the reference, give the potential referee an understanding of what should be in the letter, provide a timeline, and open the door for further communication if they need more information or have questions.

Ensure that you’re coming across as polite, concise, and provide all the necessary details for them to be able to craft a meaningful letter. Also, be respectful and appreciative of the recipient’s time and effort.

Here is an example you can follow to weave this into your reference letter request email. 

Provide necessary details about your background

You should include every necessary detail about your background to help your referee prepare something about you and ease the task. You can provide details such as the name of the position and the company, the skills you have, and your qualifications or accomplishments. 


You can add a link to an online page or a document where they can access all the information they need about you to write a compelling reference letter. Here is how you can frame that into your email:


Reference request email ending: Thank you, recipient, close the email, and sign off. 

By this time, you have your subject line and most of the email body ready; here is how to end your email

Thank the individual 

They are doing you a favor by taking the time to write this letter and expressing gratitude not only shows good manners but also makes it more likely they’ll want to help.

Add a closing note

The email closing line is where you reiterate your availability for any further queries they might have. You can also remind them of the timeline to ensure that the reference letter arrives on time.

Sign off

Lastly, finish your email with a professional sign-off, followed by your name. You might also include your contact information, such as your phone number or LinkedIn profile, so they can reach out if needed.

Here is an example of it all together:

“I truly appreciate your time and effort in considering this request. Your support means a lot to me. 

Please feel free to reach out if you need any additional information from me. 

I look forward to keeping you updated on my progress.

Best regards, 

[your name] 

[Your contact details]”

12 sample reference request emails to inspire you 

Need to request a reference? We’ve you covered. In this section, you will learn how to ask for reference emails from your colleagues, employers, professors, supervisor, and others. 

Requesting a reference from a former employer 

Requesting a reference from a former employer involves reaching out to them to ask if they would be comfortable vouching for your skills, experiences, and character, typically in relation to a job application. 

Your email should be professional, clear, and provide the recipient with all the necessary information to write a comprehensive and effective reference letter. 

Here’s an example of how to structure such a request:

Asking for a reference from a colleague 

As we said before, a colleague’s reference won’t carry a lot of weight. But still, they can offer you a personal reference that you will find helpful, and it can help with your situation as well. 

If you’ve known them for a long time and you’re good friends with them, you don’t have to be formal when making your request. Instead, craft the email around your relationship.

Make your email courteous, clear, and respectful. Outline the reason for the request, give a clear deadline, and provide all the necessary information they might need to write the letter.

Seeking a character reference from a personal contact 

A character reference, also known as a personal reference, is a letter that speaks to your personality traits, character, and overall demeanor. It’s often written by someone who knows you personally rather than professionally, such as a friend, neighbor, or family member. 

As such, it can be used for many purposes like job applications, rental applications, court hearings, volunteer positions, or other situations where character is important. Here’s a sample email for requesting a character reference:

Requesting a reference for a scholarship or academic program 

When you seek a scholarship or intend to advance your academic program, you can also need a reference. You can request this from your professor or teacher in some cases. What you need is for them to attest to your academic prowess, dedication, and character. 

Here is a template you can use as a guide.

Asking for a reference from your current supervisor 

Asking your current supervisor for a reference can be a delicate situation, particularly if you’re planning to leave your current job. However, if you have a good relationship with your boss, they can be an excellent reference, as they can speak to your current abilities and work habits.

When asking a current supervisor for a reference, you should be honest about your intentions, show appreciation for the opportunity you currently have, and emphasize that your desire to move on is about personal growth and not dissatisfaction with your current role or company.

Here’s a sample email you can customize:

Requesting a LinkedIn recommendation 

A LinkedIn recommendation helps to improve your public image. It’s a great way to sell yourself to your potential employers. These recommendations can provide a powerful testament to your skills, work ethic, and professional accomplishments, adding credibility and authenticity to your LinkedIn profile.

Here’s a sample message for requesting a LinkedIn recommendation:

Asking a professor for a reference 

A reference from a professor can give a great boost to your academic application to get a scholarship or advance your academic program. Likewise, a reference from a professor can also be a good idea for students new to the workforce and who don’t have work experience yet. 

This template can serve as a guide to use. 

Requesting a reference letter when applying for a professional license or certification

Requesting a reference letter when applying for a professional license or certification is slightly different from job or school applications. It often involves demonstrating that you have met certain professional standards or competencies, which your referee can attest to.

Here’s an example of how you might request such a reference letter:

Seeking a reference from a coach or mentor 

Seeking a reference from a coach or mentor is similar to asking for one from a former employer or professor, but the emphasis might be more on personal development, work ethic, leadership skills, and growth rather than strictly academic or professional achievements. 

Here is a sample email you can customize: 

Asking a business partner for a professional reference

A reference from a business partner, aka testimonial or social proof, can also help you secure more sales and deals as it provides you with a competitive advantage over other competitors. 

The reference can detail your professional interactions, your referee’s relationship, and other accomplishments that can make you eye-worthy to your potential customer. 

Here is an example that can inspire you when crafting yours. 

Requesting a reference letter for renting a property

When renting a property, a reference letter from a previous landlord can provide valuable insight into your reliability as a tenant. 

This letter usually includes information about your behavior as a tenant, whether you paid your rent on time, and if you left the property in good condition.

Here’s an example of an email requesting a reference letter from a previous landlord:

Key takeaways

  • A reference letter email attests to a person’s character, skills, and work experience.
  • You can send a reference request email to your former or current employer, co-workers, professor or teachers, and former clients or customers. 
  • When you’re writing your reference request email, ensure you’re polite, address the individual, go straight to the point, and get the timing right.
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