How to Ask for a Job Recommendation

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When you are job searching, being able to provide solid employment recommendations is always important. Asking the right people in the most effective way for a reference can greatly impact the ultimate quality of your recommendations, and help you get hired.

Be Selective About Who You Ask for a Recommendation

The most important step is to make sure that you choose enthusiastic supporters as reference givers. Not just any colleague or friend will do. In fact, a common mistake is subtly pressuring reluctant writers. Trying to convince someone who is not comfortable writing a job recommendation for you can be a mistake when you’re furnishing confidential references. You really won’t know exactly what they’re saying or writing about you and your qualifications for the job.

However, badgering someone who is hesitant to help you out can also backfire when you get to see the recommendation they’re writing, even when it appears to be positive. That sounds strange, because you’d think that any positive recommendation would be good. But here’s why that’s not true – employers will often follow up with your references. The employer may ask probing questions during a conversation that could reveal damaging information from the reference givers who may have doubts about your qualifications but didn't want to mention them in writing.

So, the best strategy is to give your prospective reference writers an out. Let them know that you’re looking to assemble a strong set of recommendations and ask if they are comfortable supplying a highly positive reference. If they are, then great, but if not, let them go with a simple, “thanks anyway.”

Use Email to Request a Recommendation

When asking someone to recommend you, send them an email request. This way reluctant writers can carefully choose the wording for their response and don't have to look you in the eye in order to decline.

You might ask, "Do you know me in a way that would allow you to write a really positive recommendation"? With your initial request, you should also mention that you’ll provide some additional background information to help should they choose to write for you. Not sure what exactly to write? Here are sample email letters and messages asking for a recommendation.

What Type of Information to Provide to Your References

When a prospective reference writer confirms an interest in acting as a reference for you, it’s important that you provide them with as much information as possible. Don’t leave the writer floundering and trying to figure out the job you’re applying for or why exactly you’d be so good at it. Here’s a look at some of the type of information that might be helpful for your recommendation writer to have:

1. A copy of your resume. This will provide the person giving you the recommendation a comprehensive summary of your background. Even someone who knows you well will benefit from being able to review your resume.

2. A copy of your cover letter. If the person is writing the recommendation for a specific job, this is crucial information. Your cover letter will show the recommendation writer how you’re framing your case, and might spur him or her to build upon some of the themes you’ve presented.

3. The address of your LinkedIn profile. This is especially important if you’ve included some highly laudatory recommendations and skill endorsements on your profile. Your recommender may be even more comfortable praising you after seeing these positive comments.

4. A detailed summary of the job duties and accomplishments. Of course, you want to focus on the responsibilities and accomplishments that relate to your work. This information can help your recommendation writer to be more specific and convincing when he or she writes for you. This will be especially useful if some time has passed since you worked together.

5. A copy of the job advertisement. The more information the writer has the better. Giving him or her a copy of the job posting and description can help him or her see what the employer is expecting from the prospective employee. That way he or she can tailor the reference to the specific position.

6. A copy of your personal statement. This isn’t so much for a job recommendation, but it may be important and helpful if you’re applying for graduate school. If you've written a thesis statement for your job search, share that as well.