How to ask for a letter of recommendation or referenceHays: Working For Your Tomorrowon June 26, 2024 at 10:10 am Career advice | Career tips


If you’re planning on leaving your current job, you might be worried that asking for references will be awkward. It might involve speaking to someone you’re about to leave behind, or reconnecting with former colleagues you’ve not communicated with in years. 

However, there’s a right way to go about things that will leave all parties satisfied. You’ll not only receive a reference, but also maintain strong professional relationships for the future. With this in mind, let’s look at how to ask for a letter of recommendation or reference. 

What is a reference letter or letter of recommendation? 

When you receive a job offer from a new company, their HR department will typically request references from your past employers. This is a common practice to confirm that you’ve worked at past employers for the time period you’ve claimed and in the right role. 

Alternatively, you might want to offer insight into your work ethic and performance through the form of a recommendation letter. These should come from someone who can speak positively about your abilities and performance. These are referees. 

In the letter of recommendation, your chosen referee should discuss the following: 

The time you worked together Your characteristics Your key skills Any contributions you made to significant projects  

Who can provide a reference for a job? 

Now we’ve established what a reference is, it’s important to choose somebody appropriate to write it. In most instances, an HR department will be able to provide the relevant information, so it’s best to contact them. Should you be unable to contact them, a former manager might be able to help, though in most larger organisations it’s common practice for HR to handle this solely. 

Who can be your referee for a letter of recommendation? 

If you want or require something more detailed that indicates your suitability for the role, it’s better to ask somebody who can vouch for your professionalism or capability. 

Be aware that this cannot act in place of an official reference – at larger employers, the below referees will not be able to write on behalf of the company. 

In order of preference, these are your best options to ask for a letter of recommendation: 

A current/former manager 

Anyone you’ve reported to in your career so far can share insights. They are a chief authority on this matter and their opinion will be valuable to the hiring manager. 

As a rule, you should ask somebody who has managed you as recently as possible. Of course, this can be awkward if you’re currently leaving their supervision for pastures new, but we’ll come onto how to ask for a letter of recommendation later. 

A current/former colleague 

Perhaps you’re disinclined to discuss your upcoming exit with management at your existing company. In some cases, employers may consider a letter of recommendation from a colleague, though it would carry less weight. 

A current/former professor or teacher 

If you’re at the start of your career, it’s ok to ask someone who’s taught you recently. 


In some instances, a friend who holds a professional position (for example a legal, medical or education professional) may be permitted to provide a character reference. However, this should be a last resort unless specifically requested by your prospective employer. 

How to ask someone to give a letter of recommendation or reference 

Unless you’re reaching out to an HR department or friend, you might find it awkward to have this conversation. Here’s how to ask for a referee to write a letter on your behalf. 

Don’t go in cold 

Warm up the conversation before diving into things. If it’s somebody you’re working with currently (ideally a manager), make sure that your relationship is still amicable. Alternatively, reconnect with any potential referees whom you’ve not spoken to for a while. 

Be clear on what you’re asking from them  

When you’re ready to ask, be direct and specific. For example: 

“Can I ask for a favour please? I’m currently in the process of starting a new job and I wondered if you’d be willing to provide a reference/letter of recommendation for me? I think you’d be able to offer accurate insights on our time working together at [Company].” 

If you’re speaking to your current manager, this shouldn’t be how they learn that you intend to leave. Instead, it should follow on from an earlier conversation after you’ve handed in your notice

Don’t make it an obligation 

It might sound strange, but your objective here is to maintain a strong relationship. Even if your chosen referee can’t provide anything now, they might be able to offer a good letter of recommendation or reference in future. Acknowledge that they can decline for a number of reasons. For example: 

“Of course, I understand if you’re unable to provide something.” 

Prepare them 

If somebody agrees to be your referee, you should make it as easy as possible to give a reference. Provide them with details about the new role and employer, plus any key skills or relevant experience to highlight if it’s for a letter of recommendation. 

Show gratitude for any references 

Keep your referee up to date with proceedings and be sure to thank them. After all, you might ask for another letter of recommendation in a few years! 

Final thoughts on asking for a letter of recommendation 

Bear in mind that this is a natural part of the process in changing jobs. Your chosen referee will have had to go through this themselves, just as you are now, and will probably have written references or letters of recommendation before. With that in mind, hopefully making your request doesn’t seem so daunting. 

Looking for more advice on leaving your current job? Why not check out our other blogs: 

How to write a resignation letter How to hand in your notice without worrying Why it’s always a good idea to take a break before starting a new job   

The post How to ask for a letter of recommendation or reference appeared first on Viewpoint – careers advice blog.

Career advice | Career tips

Leave a Comment