How to Ask for a Reference Letter

How to Ask for a Reference Letter

How to Ask for a Reference Letter – Best Approaches!

Throughout your career, whether it be for your first job, educational references, or even for seasoned professionals, there will be times when you need to ask for a letter of recommendation. In this article, you will see how to ask for a reference letter, a series of tips, and a few do’s and don’ts for reference letter requests. Let’s dive in.

As you interview at different companies, some of them may ask for a recommendation; but how to ask for a reference letter? In the past, it was more common to give a hard-copy, and then mail or hand deliver it. Nowadays, it is more than likely you will have your reference send an email directly to the school, employer, or recruiter. Typically, this will be in a PDF/Word format or in some cases, they may be requested to submit it on their site. In other cases, references may be requested to have a quick phone call, so recruiters can better understand who you are as a candidate. OK, so far so good. Let’s now look at some tips on how to ask for a reference letter.

How to Ask for a Reference Letter – Tips

When it is time to request reference letters, you need to hand pick your references. Choose bosses, teachers, and others who know you well. In many situations, they may have to speak with someone from HR, write a letter, or possibly fill out a questionnaire, so it is important that they know you well and will give a good reference on your part. Imagine, if you choose a reference and the person doesn’t know you. Recruiters can see right through this. With a little digging and specific questions, your chances of getting the position have just gone down. You don’t want this happening, so pick your reference accordingly. Make sure you pick someone who knows your achievements and can speak well of you.

To Refer or not to Refer

As we select our potential references and start to contact them for the golden letter, make sure they feel they have the option of referring you or not. Make sure the person doesn’t feel forced to write the letter or talk with the recruiter. A reference that feels pressured or does not want to write you a reference letter will probably not put forth a good effort. Would you try your best if you did not want to do this? Doubt it! You can’t risk the letter being sloppy or lacking the necessary impact or attention that your profile needs.

Give your Reference a Heads Up

As you have gone through your list of potential teachers, bosses, and other people who you deemed a good fit to refer you and now have some letters at your disposal, don’t forget to let them know. If you have used your references for a Marketing Analyst position at company ABC, make sure to drop them a call or email just to let them know. Nobody likes to be caught off guard. The outcome is much better when your reference knows to expect a call or email from that company.

Be Nice About it

Nobody is obligated to be your reference, so if you do need one, be courteous about asking. If you have worked at a company and have had managers, co-workers, and others there that know your skills, just remember that they have no obligation to write you a reference letter. The same applies for teachers and professors at high school, college, and even grad school. I suggest you explain to them why you think they would be a great reference and maybe you can even identify some specific points to convince them. Be creative here. Ideally, make sure to have some backup people in mind for you to approach and really think about things that they could recommend you for. Try to make their job easier.

How Should I Approach my Potential Reference?

You can ask for a reference in writing, by email, or even verbally. There is no proper way to request one. However, if you do request it verbally, make sure to follow up with your reference after the talk with a short email and just quickly review what you discussed. I highly suggest that you think about the best way this potential reference likes or prefers to be contacted. If he is someone you see at soccer games each week, do it verbally. If it is your boss, you may either send him an email or drop by his office to ask him. See what fits best for the situation.

Offer Some Bullet Points

Now, don’t let your reference free write the recommendation letter. Give him or her some background and info. There may be some specific things you would like him to highlight if he agrees. Try to give him a brief description about the company or even the job description, that way he will know how to match your skills to the company and position in his letter. It is also a good idea to send him your updated background and an up-to-date resume. You may even go as far as writing why you think you are a great fit for the position. This will help your reference get a better understanding and even use the info in the letter.

Lend a Helping Hand

Some people may not agree with this one, but I am going to put it out there. Your references are more than likely busy people. They may be teachers with tons of students, bosses with huge workloads, or other people that have busy agendas.  The suggestion here is to make their “job” easier for them. You could provide your reference with a suggested template of what to write along with bullet points. Let’s face it, it takes time to write a great reference letter and remember all your achievements. You can’t afford to have a mediocre reference letter, so do both of yourselves a favor, create a template and add some bullet points. If you still think that your reference will not have time, or may not remember all your skills, you could even go as far as writing it and asking him to adjust as he sees fit. In some cases, this approach works well.

Example 1 – How to ask for a Reference Letter

Dear (reference’s name),

I am in the process of looking for a new position as a JR Manager and I am hoping that you could be one of my references.

Having worked with you for 1 year at (company), I am certain that you can provide the recruiters with accurate information about my skillsets and experiences, thus increasing my chances of getting the job.

I have attached my resume, a copy of the job description, and a short doc with bullet points of why I feel like I am an excellent candidate for the position.  Please let me know if you need any more information.

Thank you once again for your consideration.

Kind regards,


(Phone number)

(other contact info if necessary)

Thank them

Once you have received your recommendation letter or it was sent to the company, make sure you send a nice thank you letter or email to your referrer. This kind gesture goes a long way and it is very important. Even if it was your boss or co-worker that you see daily, write a letter. It shows that you took the time to write it and you appreciate them for taking their own time to help you out.

How to Ask for a Reference Letter – Top 9 Tips

  1. Hand pick your references. Choose bosses, teachers, and others who know you well.
  2. Give your references the option to refer or not.
  3. Let your reference know to expect a call or email from company (name).
  4. Be courteous when asking a person to reference you.
  5. Request your reference letter both verbally and then follow up with an email.
  6. Offer some bullet points. Highlight areas that you would like your reference to mention.
  7. Lend a helping hand.
  8. If busy, provide a template and ask reference to adjust as seen fit.
  9. Thank your reference.

Video Tips

Wrap Up

At some point in your career, you will need to request a reference letter, no doubt! I hope that these tips facilitate your request in getting a recommendation and will lead to a great new opportunity. Do you have any additional tips on how to ask for a reference letter? Please share with the community in the comments section below!

For more articles on Interview tips and job search, check out the CareerPrep blog and the CareerPrep and EnglishInterview Youtube Channels!

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