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How to request a professional reference letter

Asking for a professional reference letter is undoubtedly one of the most awkward moments in the job hunting process. While a glowing reference can set you apart from the crowd, it’s not always easy or comfortable to ask someone to vouch for your superstar skills and qualities.

So, how do you go about finding that valuable recommendation? Here are some tips on securing a reference letter that will impress…

How to choose a referee

Be selective when choosing who you ask for a reference. It’s important to be confident that your referee will be able to give positive feedback about you and your performance in the workplace.

Having a longstanding professional relationship with your chosen referee can be an advantage, as they’ll be more likely to confidently highlight your strengths and achievements.

A referee who can also give solid examples of times you excelled at a particular task or resolved a tough issue will give your reference letter some depth.

Here are some other key things to look for in a referee before making the request:

  • Do they have a good standing in their field? (A reference letter from someone respected in their industry commands attention.)
  • Did you have a good rapport with them?
  • Were they impressed by your performance at work?

If you left your previous role under strained circumstances or you simply didn’t work well with your previous manager, they may not be the ideal candidate to sing your praises in a reference. Also avoid asking friends or relatives for a reference letter as it mightn’t be viewed as an objective assessment of your professional capabilities.

Requesting reference letter

How to find a referee if you have little experience

If you’re entering the workforce for the first time or have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time, asking a recent employer for a reference letter is less of a possibility.

Broaden your scope for potential referees by volunteering your time at an organisation or undertaking work experience. If you have just finished a course that included a work placement component, or have recently volunteered in a related field, your supervisor or coordinator will be a great candidate to approach.

How to ask for a reference letter

You can request a reference letter by email, in person or over the phone, but however you choose to do it, be sure to keep your request short and straightforward. Begin the conversation by introducing yourself and reminding them of how you may have worked together.

It’s helpful to explain why you are coming to them for a reference letter (a little flattery doesn’t go astray!) so highlight why you value that person’s opinion and respect their professional expertise. You could also mention how you learned a lot during your time working for them or admired what they accomplished with a particular project at work.

If the person agrees to write you a reference letter, make the process as easy as possible for them. You can do this by:

  • Explaining the types of roles you’re applying for
  • Outlining the work you did together
  • Highlighting some of your achievements
  • Reminding them of key strengths or attributes if you’re applying for jobs that require particular skills e.g. if you’re applying for event management roles, remind your referee of times you’ve shown an ability to work well under pressure or delegate tasks.

Always give the person time to consider your request and stress that you don’t expect an immediate reply. Simply tell them that you will follow up in a few days.

How to follow up on your request

When you receive the reference letter be sure to thank the person in question for their time and effort in a follow up email.

Once you’ve interviewed for a role, the person managing the recruitment process will most likely let you know if they plan to contact your reference directly. If this is mentioned, it’s best to send a quick email to your referee letting them know that they may be contacted -include a brief overview the role and company in your email so they are prepared for the call.

Make a point of keeping in touch with any referee as a strong network of contacts can be a vital tool to draw on throughout your career.