Who Should I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

Asking for a letter of recommendation or a professional referral is necessary in both the professional world as well as for continuing education. However, the person acting as your reference may have more influence on your application than you think.

When applying for a new job, prospective employees usually need three references available for contact who will vouch for their professional work ethic. Having good references is crucial to landing a new job, so make sure your professional contacts are prepared to vouch for you when your prospective employer contacts them.   Reference checks are very common in the professional world before an offer is made, so picking good references is crucial. But how do you know if your referral will be a good one? 

Previous employers who can confirm you worked there and discuss your work ethic, reason for leaving, and other details are excellent references. However, make sure you get the person's permission before you list them as a reference. Providing a referral for someone means their professional careers will always be professionally connected to yours, so make sure people are comfortable taking that step. You need to also have a good idea of what they are going to say about your performance and personality. References can be very influential for getting you a job, but they can also be the reason you are passed over. Make sure you know the person well enough and they know you well enough to give you a good endorsement. Business colleagues, professors and academic advisors, previous employers, and volunteer coordinators are all good people to ask. Unfamiliarity is the most common red flag seen by potential employers, so make sure your referral comes from someone who knows you well. 

But how should you approach someone and ask if they will be a reference? In this case, the phrase "it never hurts to ask" is not the best approach. Because you want people who will rave about your performance, you want to ask people who really know you and will give you a positive rating. Therefore, asking something along the lines of "do you feel you know my work well enough to give me a reference?" or "do you feel comfortable writing me a positive recommendation letter?" And follow up by saying "I understand that you are busy and it is fine if you don't have time" to make sure they are not saying yes just because you asked. Once you have asked and received confirmation that they will assist you, make sure to compile a list of references.

It is also important to keep your references updated. After someone offers to give you a reference, send them an updated copy of your resume as well as detailed information on your skills and experiences. This will give them current information to work with when describing your qualities. It is also suggested that you send a bullet point list of achievements or specific information on accomplishments that your reference can mention if called. 

If you pick your referrals right, you will most likely land an interview for your dream job. Make sure you are prepared by learning about how to ace an interview. A final note about your referral or reference writers--it is important to send a thank-you note right after the referral process is complete to show your sincere gratitude for the person's time and effort.  This will cement a lasting professional relationship. And hopefully, when someone one day asks you to be a reference for them, you can learn how to write a reference letter here.