How to ask for (or provide) a professional IT reference
Posted on
May 24, 2022
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Asking for a professional reference, or providing one, is a regular function of modern workplace culture.

Oftentimes, the best critique of yourself is someone else. The best way to make yourself known is for someone else to introduce you, and the best way to preach about your assets to the world is to put the words in someone else’s mouth.

That’s more or less what each of us does when we ask for a professional reference. Let’s discuss professional IT references: Who you should ask? How should you ask? We’ll get into how the nature of your job hunt affects asking for a professional reference, and discuss what details you should share when you make the ask.

We’ll also go over what types of professionals you should hit up for a reference and who you should give one to. Should you put references on your résumé, and who should you include? Should you ask a friend or colleague? When is the right time to ask?

When giving a reference, who should you endorse, and when? How should you conduct yourself when providing a reference for someone else? Finally, we’ll discuss some tips for writing a letter of reference for someone else.

Get a reference

First off, how do you get a professional reference? It’s easy to simply say “ask,” but how does one ask? To break it down, a professional reference is a person who can vouch for your qualifications for a job based on their insight into your work ethic, skills, strengths, and achievements.

Does this always need to be someone you know personally? I would certainly recommend that, and it’s considered best practice to get a reference from someone in your professional network who can directly attest to how amazing you are and vouch for your work.

Typically, a professional reference is a former employer, client, colleague, teacher, supervisor, and so forth. References may provide correspondence that serves as a proof of service, length of employment, achievements, and qualifications. The entire contribution from a reference can be as simple as this.

When choosing the ideal professional references to attest to your qualifications, go for persons who previously observed you while in a productive capacity either at work, lecture rooms, or in a volunteer setting. They are probably the most noteworthy and connected, so go for someone who will provide some “bang for your buck.”

Full disclosure?

Asking for a professional reference, or providing one, is a regular function of modern workplace culture.

On the topic of how much (and what) to tell the person supplying a reference about your job search, it depends on your reason for asking, and it depends on the individual. If you are just building your street cred or rounding out your LinkedIn profile, then you can tell them you want to have a strong fishing net the next time that you need a new job.

If you are looking for a specific job and you are asking someone — a current manager, for example — who might be upset about that, then you can (and probably should) be more guarded.

Current or previous employers, of course, can speak best about your work ethic. Leaving your former boss off your reference list, in fact, even if your former boss wasn't so great, can give the impression there’s a reason you don’t want any future employer to contact them.

If you've chosen to leave your current or most recent employer off your list of references, then be prepared to explain why. Personally, I would avoid that conversation and include even problematic past managers. Just put them, say, fourth on your list of references, instead of first.

If you really don’t want your current boss to know that you’re looking for a new job — for whatever reason — then ask yourself who else you work with who could vouch for you. Try to include at least one reference, whoever it is, who can speak to your performance at your current job.

IT references only?

If you are an IT professional, then there isn’t a better professional reference than one from another IT professional — from someone who works in your field. It is true that people who don’t necessarily work in your field can vouch generally for your employment qualifications.

An employment reference, however, almost always packs more punch if it’s from a professional peer. I would lean toward having one hundred percent of your professional reference come from people in your field.

Letters of reference

Asking for a professional reference, or providing one, is a regular function of modern workplace culture.

“References available on request” has become such a common phrase on résumés that most people leave it off. If employers want references, they will ask you for them. I am not a fan of having the letters of reference attached to a résumé: Its clunky and not needed. Whatever, you do, don’t make your résumé more than 4 pages.

I am a big fan of asking for a letter of reference at random times from random people, so as not to indicate directly when you are actually looking for a job. Even if you like your current job, you never know when you’ll need to look for a new one, and it never hurts to be prepared. A letter of reference is an arrow in your job hunting quiver.

Have you recently done a particularly good job finishing a project at work? There’s no better time to ask your manager or boss for a letter of reference. Tell him or her that you just want to add it you your stockpile of good references. And always thank them for their time and effort.

Providing a letter of reference

What if someone asks you for a professional reference? You agree to play a part. What’s next? (Incidentally, agreeing to give a reference, whether written or oral, is simply good form. Unless you have serious reservations about the individual who has asked you, it is always polite to provide a sincere and honest reference.)

There is a real standard format for writing a letter of reference. Start by explaining your relationship to the candidate. How do you know the candidate? Be as specific as possible: Did you work with, grow up with, or simply casually meet the individual you are speaking up for?

You always want to include long you’ve known the candidate. Oftentimes, I like to include a short anecdote describing how we met. Also explain how long and in what capacity (personal or professional) you have known the candidate.

Describe their positive personal qualities and give specific examples. Share at least three personal qualities that would help the employer better understand the candidate and how they would benefit the company. Give some specific examples of how they used these qualities at your company, especially if you are the candidate’s boss or coworker.

Close with a statement of recommendation. Your final statement should declare your recommendation. Be direct and straightforward on this statement and make it as clear as possible why you are recommending the candidate.

Asking for a professional reference, or providing one, is a regular function of modern workplace culture.

Offer your contact information. Include at least two pieces of contact information, such as your e-mail address and a phone number. You always want to provide the ability for the person to call. A quick phone call can handle any follow-up needed.

Receive ... and give

Asking for a professional reference, or providing one, is a regular function of modern workplace culture. Don't be afraid to ask supervisors, peers, or other colleagues for help. This is a good area in which to practice the golden rule: Remember that you may well be asked to provide a reference yourself someday. Be professional and courteous both when you ask for a reference and when you provide one, and you'll never go wrong.


About the Author

Nathan Kimpel is a seasoned information technology and operations executive with a diverse background in all areas of company functionality, and a keen focus on all aspects of IT operations and security. Over his 20 years in the industry, he has held every job in IT and currently serves as a Project Manager in the St. Louis (Missouri) area, overseeing 50-plus projects. He has years of success driving multi-million dollar improvements in technology, products and teams. His wide range of skills include finance, ERP and CRM systems. Certifications include PMP, CISSP, CEH, ITIL and Microsoft.

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