Career Advice

The Reference Letter: How And Who To Ask

min read
Wani Azahar

If you think about it, there’s nothing like a good recommendation. Whether it’s for a new restaurant or some fresh tunes to listen to, you’ll probably trust the choices shared by a credible network. This goes the same for hiring, and recruiters value a good reference letter to help make them an informed decision. 

As cover letters and resumes may lean in favour towards you, reference letters help recruiters to understand your capability and work ethics from someone else's point of view. With that said, let’s go straight to business on who you should ask for a reference letter and how.

Who To Ask

You would usually ask former employers and managers to be your references. They would know your strengths and can vouch for your achievements. However, you may also consider approaching others that you have shared a professional relationship with. This includes colleagues, business contacts, clients, partners or vendors. 

Most hiring managers would check three references from a candidate, so make sure to select responsive people who can confirm where you worked, your title, your reason for leaving, details regarding your strengths, and why you would be a good employee.

How To Ask

While you can simply ask “Could you write a reference letter for me?”, it’s not something you should do. Instead, here are some tips to help for when you’re asking for someone’s help to write you a reference letter.

Ask Nicely

Sorry Champ, but no one owes you a reference letter no matter how good your work is. Once you’ve made your list of references, call each of these people (or even see them in person if you can) to ask if they’re willing to serve as a reference. Ideally, the person should personally know you currently so that the feedback they write is updated.

However, if you’ve not spoken to a prospective reference in a while, briefly remind them of who you are and when or where you’ve worked together. Update them on your career direction before jumping straight into the question. 

Always Give Them A Way Out

Now that you have an idea on who and what to say, always position your proposal in a way where they can gracefully refuse. Some people might feel uncomfortable writing a recommendation for you but are too embarrassed to refuse. T

he worse thing than a bad reference is a neutral reference letter that’s limp, invaluable and something you can copy off a template. With that in mind, try these questions instead: 

  • Would you be comfortable in writing me a reference letter? 
  • I was wondering if you knew my work well enough to write me a good reference letter? 
  • Would you have time in the next few weeks to serve as my reference?

If they hesitate or try to wiggle, be the one who accepts their decline politely, thank them and move on to the next. 

Help Them Help You

As you go through the list, you’ll begin to gather a list of good references. For them, it’s good to share a copy of your updated resume. Not only will they be able to have current information to work with when they’re writing the letter, they will also have a better idea on which projects or achievements you’ve worked together on to include. Other than that, you might even want to highlight what they should focus on in their letter. This way, you get to choose the best references for each type of company you’re applying to.

Now that you’ve aced on how to ask for a reference, don’t forget to email them as soon as they have agreed to write you a letter. Remember to thank them for assisting you, and explain what position you applied for and why you think your experience with that person would be useful in your application. Upon receiving the letter, keep the relationship healthy show your appreciation - and never burn bridges.

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