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How to Politely Ask for a Job Referral


Perhaps the most potent tool in your job search bag is an excellent employment reference letter from a former boss or co-worker. It’s true that it can be somewhat awkward to ask for one months and even years after you’ve left a company. However, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to be successful in your career search.

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Are Reference Letters Still Important?

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As a former recruitment professional, I can personally tell you that many times when a candidate presented a well-written reference letter attached to their resume, this has impressed me enough to call the applicant in for a personal interview. Ultimately, this simple document helps a recruiter to make a more solid decision in hiring a candidate. Why? Because a reference letter shares added insight above and beyond what a standard reference check can gather. Job referral letters are powerful and still regarded as vital to the recruitment process.

5 Ways to Get a Referral Letter

So, how can one go about politely asking for a job referral? There are actually a few easy and non-stressful ways of doing this. Follow these steps to get better quality career referrals.

  1. 1. Write Your Own – Many people don’t realize this, but if you want to get a great reference letter, especially in a hurry, take the time to write one yourself and simply ask get it signed off by your former manager or a trusted colleague. The reason why reference letters often get delayed is because people don’t have the time or don’t know what to write about you. Always offer this as an alternative when asking for a reference.
  2. 2. Provide Guidelines – If you do have a supervisor or co-worker who wishes to write your reference letter for you, give them some basic structure to follow for an even better one. You may want to ask them to include a description of the skills you demonstrated, the projects you completed, and any specific achievements you had while employed.
  3. 3. Ask During Your Reviews – The best time to ask for a reference letter is right after you get a performance review from your supervisor. Ask your manager to write a brief testimony about your overall performance on the corporate letterhead for future career development. This makes it much less awkward than asking for a reference letter at the end of your tenure.
  4. 4. Reach out and Touch Someone – Too many people hide behind their emails today and therefore do not get a positive response when asking for a referral. First off all, pick up the phone and alert your former manager that you are on the prowl for a job and that to save them time you would like to request a written referral. They will appreciate the convenience of this.
  5. 5. Look for Alternative References – It’s common for job seekers to only seek out references from former supervisors and co-workers, but did you know that recruiters also enjoy seeing references from other sources too? Consider asking for references from volunteer positions you’ve held, instructors for career-related courses you’ve taken, and those in your career networks who know the kind of person you are the skills you bring to the table.
  6. It’s important to note that job references should be concise and to the point, written in the first person by the person giving the reference, and published on official letterhead. Include them as an additional file or an attachment whenever applying for a new assignment. (Word to the wise, however: Do NOT include the old-school phrase of “additional references available” to your resume.)  Then sit back and watch how your professional references can help you land your dream job that much faster.

    Tell Us What You Think!

    Do you routinely ask for job reference letters for  future employment opportunities – why or why not?  Share your thoughts on Twitter or in the comments section below!

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Tess C. Taylor
Read more from Tess C.

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