Can I List Someone As a Reference Without Asking Them


can i list someone as a reference without asking them

Particularly if you’re early in your career, finding a sufficient number of references for a job application can be challenging.

Generally, companies expect around three – five job references and it can be a pain to meet that requirement. And even if you have that number of references, it can be difficult to get a hold of all of them to confirm that they’re willing to be references for you.

Given the hassle, it may be tempting to want to list a reference without asking him or her first. But is that really a good idea? This article is going to unpack that question for you.

Can I List Someone As a Reference Without Asking Them?

reference check

Yes, you technically can list someone as a reference without asking them first. However, it is not advisable to do so because you don’t know if the person would be willing to be a reference, or if they’re easily able to be contacted at the time that you need them.

My recommendation would be to always ask a reference is they’re comfortable being listed before doing so. 

First, the people that you’re listing as references are supposed to be those that are the best third party sources of information about your ability to do a job. So you want to be very confident that they’re willing and able to do that. 

And even if you think they would be, it’s not advisable to do so until you’ve confirmed that that they’re open to serving in that capacity. Because, at the end of the day, a bad reference truly can cost you a job, so you want to make sure that your references are as buttoned up as possible.

Secondly, if you haven’t spoken to someone in a while, it’s tough to be confident that you have accurate contact information for them. If you have their work contact info, they might have moved to a different company. Or maybe their personal contact info changed. And even if that’s correct, maybe they’re on extended vacation that would make them tough to get a hold of. 

So, asking someone to be a reference first also confirms that they’re still accessible, avoiding the situation of a company not being able to get a hold of your reference.

Should I Contact Someone Before Listing Them As a Reference?

thumbs up and down

Yes, you should contact someone before listing them as a reference for the reasons referenced in the previous section.

Now, while I do recommend contacting someone before listing them as a reference, if you’re desperate, there is a bit of a risk/reward assessment involved.

Let’s say that you’re at the final stage of an interview, and you need to provide references urgently to get a job offer. In that situation, if you have a high level of confidence that everyone you provide would be open to being a reference, that they’re available, and you have the right contact information for them, it might be worth the risk to meet the urgent deadline and then give them a heads up after the fact that you listed them.

Just note that if companies do ask for references, you should expect that they will call them, so be sure to avoid fake references or providing throwaway references because you don’t think the company will actually call.

Do You Have to Ask Someone To Be a Reference Every Time?

thinking person

No, you don’t need to ask someone to be a reference every time you list them on a job application. However, it is a best practice to ask them prior to starting a job search process.

What I mean by that is the average person changes jobs every 3 – 5 years. And when you start that process of searching for a job, it’s important to let your references know and make sure you’re comfortable with them listing you as a reference.

However, once you’ve notified them, you don’t need to ask them every single time you apply for a job during that period in which you’re sending out applications. Just once at the start is sufficient.

How Do You Ask Someone for a Reference That You Haven’t Spoken to in a While?

professional reference

It can feel a bit awkward to ask someone for a reference that you haven’t spoken to in a while. However, that shouldn’t preclude you from making the request if the person is someone that could be a valuable reference for you.

To help you make the request of someone that you haven’t spoken to in a while, you can use the suggested messaging below:

Hi {First Name},


I hope that you’re doing well! 


It has been a while since we’ve last spoken, but I’m hoping that you be willing to help me out in my current job search process. You’re someone that I worked closely with at {insert company name} and had a great experience working with.


To that end, I was hoping that you would be comfortable with me listing you as a reference on some upcoming job applications that I will be sending out.


If you’re comfortable with that, would you mind letting me know by {insert date}?


Thank you in advance!


{First Name}

I would recommend sending that message to their LinkedIn, their work email, or somewhere that you’re confident that they’re going to be checking regularly.


In general, you want to avoid listing someone as a reference without asking them. Listing someone as a reference without asking creates risk for you in that you don’t know if the person actually would be willing to speak on your behalf, nor if they’re available to respond to a reference check.

So make the ask the beginning of your job search process, and that will help your chances of having a good set of references.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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