Tips for Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

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If you're interviewing for a new job, you should expect to have your references checked prior to getting an offer. Having good references can make or break the possibility of a job offer, so review these tips for asking for a letter of recommendation.

Be sure to choose the right people to ask for letters of recommendation, and ask them far enough in advance so that you're not rushing them.

If you plan ahead and compile a list of references so that you can get your recommendation letters now, it will ensure you're prepared when a prospective employer requests a reference letter, or two.

Who to Ask for References

On average, employers check three references for each candidate. However, you can’t have too many people in your corner, and it can be helpful to have a selection of people vouch for you who are knowledgeable about different aspects of your abilities. That way you can choose the best references for each type of company you’re applying to.

Select People Who Will Give You a Strong Endorsement. It's important to know your references well. You need 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.

It's also important to have a good idea of what references are going to say about your background and your performance. Make sure that any information provided by your references corroborates what you have written in your resume and talked about in your interviews. Inconsistent information can jeopardize your chances at a job offer, or even cause it to be withdrawn.

References Don't Have to Be from Employers. It's perfectly acceptable to use references other than past employers. Business acquaintances, professors or academic advisors, customers, and vendors can all serve as references. In addition, if you volunteer, you can use leaders or other members of the organization as personal references.

Get Recommendations in Writing. Whenever you leave a position you should ask for a letter of recommendation from your manager, especially if you had a good working relationship. It’s a good idea to ask right away because as time passes and people move on, it's easy to lose track of previous employers and the memory of exactly how vital you were to an organization during your tenure may fade.

If you have letters in-hand in advance, you'll have written documentation of your credentials readily available to give to prospective employers. But what about those supervisors you didn’t ask for a letter of recommendation when you moved on? It's perfectly acceptable to contact them now to ask for a letter to include in your personal files.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Don't simply ask, "Could you write a letter of reference for me?" Just about anyone can write a letter. It’s better to ask, "Do you feel you know my work well enough to write me a good recommendation letter?" or "Do you feel you could give me a good reference?"

That way, your reference writer has an easy out if they are not comfortable writing a letter. Conversely, you'll be assured that those that say "yes" will be enthusiastic about your performance and will write a positive letter.

Always offer to provide your updated resume including information regarding your skills and experiences, so the reference writer has current information to work with.

Additional Letter of Recommendation Tips

If your recommendation writer asks you to provide a sample of the kind of reference letter you need, look online to find sample reference letters to show them.

In addition to references, you may be asked to provide contact information for your present supervisor. Most prospective employers realize that you may not have shared the details of your job search with your current employer, and will ask your permission before contacting your supervisor to avoid jeopardizing your current position.

Don’t forget to thank your reference writers with a thank you note. People like to feel appreciated and when they know they’ve been a big help to you, they may be more likely to help you in the future. An email thank you note is fine, but a hand-written thank you note may appear to be more thoughtful and might make a bigger impression.