How to Ask for a Letter of Reference (With Steps and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When you apply for a job, employers may request a letter of reference during the application process. This is a letter written by another person to vouch for your character and qualifications. If you're looking for a job, knowing how to ask for a letter of reference may help you prepare for this request. In this article, we outline the steps to ask for a letter of reference, discuss tips on how to get effective reference letters and describe the typical format of this document.

Related: Personal References FAQ: Definition and How to Obtain One

How to ask for a letter of reference

Knowing how to ask for a letter of reference is important because some hiring managers may require this document when you submit your job application. A letter of reference outlines the characteristics, strengths and skills of a job applicant so that hiring managers understand why this individual is suitable for the position. By seeking an endorsement from a person who's familiar with you, hiring managers may gain a clearer idea of your professional competencies.

An effective reference letter is usually a one- or two-page document that summarises your most significant attributes. You can ask for letters of reference from former supervisors, ex-colleagues, university professors or mentors. Here are the steps you can take to ask for such a document:

1. Decide who you want to write the letters

People who can attest to your skills and qualities may write effective reference letters that increase your chances of success. When choosing your referees, it's important to select someone who witnessed how you developed your skills or who can give examples of how you overcame obstacles. Other than endorsing your positive traits, they may also provide their opinions on how you may make positive contributions in your new role. This information may allow hiring managers to make a more accurate assessment of your suitability for the job.

2. Prepare a resume for the writer

To make this task easier for your letter writer, it's important to provide them with a resume that highlights your strengths and achievements. This enables the letter writer to create a powerful document that includes current information about your accomplishments. If you're a new graduate, you may also provide your academic transcripts. Providing a copy of the job posting may also allow them to describe your competencies that match the job requirements.

Related: How to Ask Someone to Be Your Referee: Email Examples

3. Speak to the writer about your request in person or over the phone

Speak to the writer about your request, either in person or by telephone. When raising the request, you can briefly explain why you chose them to be your referee. If the individual declines your request, remember to thank them for their time. If the person agrees to write the letter, you can then submit a written request by email.

4. Send a formal request by email

After receiving a verbal confirmation from your letter writer, the next step is to email them to formalise the request. You may also provide some information to help them produce this document. The following outlines some information you may include in your email:

  • job posting or information on the position pursuing

  • updated resume

  • submission deadline for the reference letter

  • format of the letter, if the job posting specifies one

  • method of submitting the letter

5. Follow up before the deadline

About a week or two before the letter is due, you may follow up on the status by sending your letter writer a polite reminder. This is also an opportunity to provide any additional information that they may require. You can follow up by calling them or sending them a reminder email.

6. Thank the writer

Remember to show your gratitude to the letter writer after they submit the document. You can write them a thank you note or send a token of appreciation. Being polite shows that you acknowledge the letter writer's time and effort in helping with your request. Cultivating positive relationships with your referees may also be beneficial as you expand your personal and professional networks.

Related: Employment Reference Letter: Definition and How to Write One

Tips for getting effective letters of reference

The aim of submitting a letter of reference is to affirm your significant qualities that show you can perform the job competently. Hiring managers may value the opinions of your letter writers because they can provide an independent assessment of your character and skills. To ensure that you receive letters of reference that benefit you in your job search, here are some tips to consider:

Make your requests early

Giving ample time to your letter writers is important as they may have other commitments. Make sure your referees have enough time to work on the document. You can raise your requests about three weeks before the submission deadline. This allows the letter writers time to draft and edit the letters according to your requirements.

Explain why their opinions matter

When approaching referees with your requests, it's important to explain the reasons you value their opinions and respect their expertise. Share with them the reasons you selected them to be your referees. For example, you may ask a supervisor at your former workplace who mentored you as you started your career. This individual may provide accurate assessments of your strengths and personality traits. Knowing why you approached them may help your referees write stronger letters of reference.

Related: How to Ask for Job References (With a Template and Example)

Provide adequate details

Offering specific information may help your letter writers produce outstanding reference letters. It's critical that you provide adequate details so that your referees have enough material to write the document. For instance, you can list your specific achievements or outline information about your prospective employer. Present your information in a simple format so that it's easy for your letter writers to read it.

Give submission requirements

Give your letter writers accurate information on the submission requirements. Some employers may ask the job candidate to submit a hard copy of this letter. Others may ask the referee to submit the letter directly to them. It's important that your referee is clear about the submission requirements so that the letter is in the correct format and arrives on time.

Ask another person if you sense hesitation

If an individual hesitates when you raise your request for a reference letter, it may mean that this person doesn't know you well enough to write a letter that can benefit you in the hiring process. It may be better to approach another person who can write a strong recommendation for you. When you're deciding who you want to write your reference letters to, it's a good idea to have several choices.

Related: Your Guide to Providing References on a Resume

What to include in a letter of reference

While letters of reference may vary according to the writer's writing style, many of these documents contain some common elements. Here are the components of a typical letter of reference that may guide your letter writers:

Introduction

Your referee may begin by writing an introductory statement that outlines the purpose of the letter. You may ask your letter writer to include your name, the position you're applying for and the name of your prospective employer. The introduction may also briefly describe your referee's background and qualifications.

Reasons for recommendation

The letter can continue to list specific reasons your referee is recommending you for the position. This may include information such as your personality traits, expertise and accomplishments. It's a good idea to provide context on the referee's professional relationship with you. This section may also highlight significant skills that allow you to execute the job responsibilities competently.

Related: Experience Letter Sample: Definition, Tips and Template

Personal anecdote with evidence of your strengths

A strong reference letter may include a personal anecdote that reflects your qualities and capabilities. You may ask your referee to describe an instance where your actions or behaviour made a positive impression. Including a personal story can allow hiring managers to assess your strengths based on information from a third party. This may benefit you in the hiring process.

Related: What Is a Character Reference Letter? (With Tips and Samples)

Closing statement with contact details

A closing statement that provides the referee's contact details makes it easy for hiring managers to ask for more information. It's important to include the letter writer's phone number and email address. Your referee can state in the closing statement that they're available to answer questions if necessary.

Signature and designation

Your letter writer may end the document by including a signature, designation and company name. If hiring managers requested a soft copy of this letter, it's important to remind your referee to save it in an acceptable file format. If hiring managers require you to mail a physical copy of the letter, provide your referees with pre-addressed envelopes for their use.

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