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How To Request A Professional Reference Letter

by Marianne Stenger
Posted: March 08, 2016

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A professional reference letter will help employers gain a better insight into your personality and work ethic, so it's important to plan your request to attain a glowing one.

Whether you’re just beginning your career or have plenty of experience under your belt, a professional reference letter can help you back up any claims you’ve made in your resume or job interview, and are most likely to enhance your job-seeking prospects when done effectively

Given the importance of this often overlooked aspect of the job hunt, here are a few important steps to take when requesting a professional reference letter.

1. Identify the best potential referees 

How to request a professional reference letter - deal - colleague

If you really want a wonderful recommendation, it’s best to reach out to people you’ve worked with closely, rather than someone you may have occasionally exchanged pleasantries with in the hall. 

Ideally, your referee would be an employer, manager or mentor, but if you’re just entering the workforce it could also be a professor or contact from a volunteer position. The most important thing is that it’s someone you know quite well and had a good working relationship with. 

2. Let them know why you value their opinion

Old business friends and colleagues

When contacting your chosen referees, let them know why you value their opinion, and if you can, try to cite specific examples of qualities you admire or things you’ve learned from them. This will not only help you to get on their good side but will also give your request a more personal touch. 

For instance, you could say something like “I very much appreciated your insights and unique approach to problem solving during the time we worked together. I’d love it if you would consider writing me a strong letter of recommendation.” 

3. Be clear about what you need

Be clear about your reference letter

You can’t expect to receive a strong professional reference letter if you don’t give your referees enough information to work with. So it’s in your best interest to explain exactly what you’d like the letter to say and/or provide a customisable template

The template can be a basic outline with specific bullet points you’d like included or you can send a completed draft that highlights your most important (and relevant) skills and attributes. You might feel a bit odd praising yourself, but keep in mind that doing so will make it a lot easier on the referee. 

Of course, you should also emphasise that they’re free to put it into their own words or change and add anything they like. As long as you’re truthful, they won’t mind this approach and will likely greatly appreciate your guidance

4. Give them plenty of time to respond

Plenty of time

Don’t contact your referee on a Monday if you need a reference letter by Friday. Yes, it’s quite possible that they’ll be able to provide you with a reference letter within a few days of your request, especially if you’ve prepared a template, but giving them several weeks notice is more respectful of their time

This also gives you time to find another referee if your first choice falls through, which is a possibility you shouldn’t discount. Always make it easy for your referee to decline by including a line like “I know you’re busy and I completely understand if you’d prefer not take this on,” so they won’t feel pressured into doing something they’re not comfortable with. 

5. Follow up with a thank you note

Thank you email or note

If your request is successful and you receive a great recommendation letter, be sure to send a personalised note or email thanking them for taking the time to endorse you. If you know the referee quite well and think they’d appreciate it, you can even get in touch with them again at a later date to let them know whether you got the job, but always express your thanks as soon as possible. 

Looking for more helpful career tips all in one place? Get the best advice from career experts here.


Marianne Stenger

Marianne is a London-based freelance Writer and Journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central.

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