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How to ask for a reference that lands you your dream job

A great resume won’t guarantee you a job offer. The best backup plan is your references. Here’s how to ask for a reference that lands you a dream job.

Ramit Sethi · September 2nd, 2016

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It’s truly amazing how bad most career advice is.

Pass out business cards! Use higher-quality resume paper! Tell them your weakness is working too hard!

I can say this because my team and I spent 18 months doing research before creating my Find Your Dream Job program. We read it all.

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Look, you already know what’s really needed to get the interview:

But one thing “career gurus” always miss is critical: creating powerful references.

The truth is, unless your references are champion communicators, they can flub your chances of scoring your dream job.

But all “career gurus” tell you is “give your references a notice in advance to expect a call.” Here’s an example of why doing this alone hurts your chance of winning the job:

HIRING MANAGER: What’s it like to work with Ramit?

TYPICAL REFERENCE: You know, Ramit is a really hard worker and loved his job. All of our coworkers just loved having him here too. BLAH BLAH BLAH

With a little bit of planning, though, your references can persuade the hiring manager that you’re the only person they should consider for this job.

HIRING MANAGER: What’s it like to work with Ramit?

YOUR REFERENCE: Ramit completely changed the direction of our business. He refocused our attention on our users, helped us figure out several lucrative marketing channels, and ripped apart an idea that would have wasted six months of our time. His advice will be worth well over $100,000 — and that was just over one dinner.

Do you see the sway ONE excellent review of you has on not only your chances of being hired, but also your salary potential?

This is a Big Win that anyone can create for themselves with a good bit of practice. And today, I’m going to show you how to build your own army of powerful references. Follow these steps, and you’ll have a list of people ready to praise your work and help you land any job you want.

It’s worth taking 2x the time if you get 10x the result

Before we start, I want to be crystal clear about two things:

1. Building a powerful network is not easy.

If you want something easy, go find some stupid blog that posts Top 10 Career Tips for Success!

My students take the smarter path. They work harder on the right things and, in return, get massively disproportionate rewards.

For example, if the average person spends 1 hour a week sending their resumes out, my students will spend 3… but they’ll also get 10x the response rate. That’s what I call disproportionate results.

2. Building a network is not about sending a fake email to someone, pretending to be interested in them, then asking for a reference.

It’s about building relationships by investing in others first. Figuring out what they want and love and helping them get it — NOT instantly expecting a magic job reference. In fact, most of the “networking” you do will be helping people and getting nothing back in return.

This may make you uncomfortable since we’re so used to our transactional culture. So how do you tap your natural network for a powerful reference?

The answer is to shift your focus from a “me” perspective to a ”you” perspective.

When you change your outlook about networking to a “you first” mentality, you will see massive changes in your life.

For example, years ago, Charlie Hoehn used this approach on me and other New York Times bestselling authors to land himself some cool gigs:

Charlie’s helped Tim Ferriss, Tucker Max, and me.

And this ”you first” approach is how I’ve been able to get advice from bestselling authors, rockstar CEOs, and all kinds of fascinating people.

Get busy people to be your references

So how can this approach be used for creating powerful referrers?

Often this means understanding what’s expected from your references. Your hiring manager ideally wants to get on the phone for a few minutes with someone who is emphatic about your work. Someone who can strongly communicate why you’re the perfect fit for them.

Generally speaking, the people who can articulate that are people you worked with most recently and/or who are close friends with you. Because they’re the ones with the freshest and best memory of your strengths and accomplishments.

Ideally you’ll have such a close relationship that you don’t need to ask them if it’s OK to use them as a reference every time.

You can just let them know each time they may be contacted.

The email script below works perfectly. In fact, it’s not even a full email — it’s just a subject line:

Subject: Can I put you down as a professional reference? (eom)

The acronym means “end of message.” It lets busy people know that the subject line IS the message. This increases your response rate since someone can read this on their phone and respond with a quick “yes.”

Guarantee your references say all the right things

Once your references say yes, you want to send them a follow-up updating them about your career path.

This way they know the hiring manager may call, plus they know why you want to work for this company and your latest achievements. And then they can give you a glowing recommendation.

Be sure to send this 2-4 days before any job interview you go on. This is the perfect timing because they have time to review your email before the call.

Anything less than 2 days, and a busy person wouldn’t appreciate the surprise. Anything longer than 4 days, and the referrer risks forgetting what you told them.

Here’s a script you can use:

There are 3 reasons why this email works:

1. It’s a two-fold updating machine
First, it lets your referrer know that a hiring manager may be calling soon.

Second, you give your referrer a reason to be excited to rave about you.

By mentioning the reason(s) why you want to work at the new company, you show how you think this a perfect fit for you. Your excitement will get them excited, which will come across when they get on the phone with the hiring manager.

2. You give brief talking points to guide your referrer
It’s one thing to email someone and ask for a reference. It’s another thing to do that and then have your references say all the right things.

So it’s critical to give a laundry list of reasons why the hiring manager should choose you. Like any good study guide for a test, you want to give your referrers something that’s short, sweet, and to the point. Keep it to a max of 3 achievements.

3. But you only give the necessary info
No one likes to read a novel in an email. That is why you focus on showcasing a few strengths.

You also want to attach your resume so your referrer can quote your job title and description accurately. There’s nothing worse than you saying you have one job and then your referrer saying you have another one.

Lastly, the link to the job description is so your referrer knows what’s expected of this new job, which means they can give a better recommendation.

Don’t forget to go the last mile

Assuming everything goes well, and you get a “yes!” from your dream job, it’s time to celebrate…

…but not quite yet.

This is where the average person generally makes the most “Failure of the Last Mile” mistakes. And it’s where you can stand out better than 99% of the population.

Let me give you an example. I have a college friend who spent hundreds of hours planning a massive event with thousands of dollars invested into catering, chairs, a speaker… and then she forgot to send an email the day before the event reminding the attendees to actually show up.

The event turned out to be a flop because my friend missed the very last step, the “last mile.”

When my students get great news like landing their dream job, they immediately tell their “biggest fans.” These are the people who gave them the over-the-top reference.

What does a referrer want from someone who asks for their review of them? They don’t want your money or introductions.

They want to be a part of your success. It makes them feel successful if they help seal the deal.

Think about it: If I get asked for a favor, and they write back saying, “Hey Ramit, thanks for taking the time to be my reference. That helped me get a $3,000 raise and also get Fridays off. If you need a reference yourself, or have something else in mind, let me know how I can help.”

Can you imagine how happy you would be if you helped someone win that job?

THAT is worth more than any amount of money they could give me. And it’s the first step to building a relationship.

If you’re going to ask for a reference, whether it’s over the phone, via email, or in person, why go to all that trouble… and then drop the ball by not following up?

I’ve helped you out with getting references that land you the job. But since most career advice is terrible, you probably have more questions.

So I created videos to answer them all. I address things like:

  • “How can I get a job at a company if I don’t perfectly match the requirements?”
  • “How do I find — and land — unadvertised jobs?”
  • “How do I approach the job search after being a stay-at-home mom for the last eight years?”

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