How to Request a Professional Reference

Requesting a recommendation letter might seem like a straightforward task, but it’s common for job seekers to feel intimated or awkward about it.


A professional reference letter is usually non-negotiable whether you’re finding a new gig after a layoff, making a career change, or entering the workforce for the first time. Thankfully, there are easy steps to take that will make requesting references easy every time. 

First off, be sure to consider two main things before asking someone to write you a PROFESSIONAL reference:

  1. How closely did you work with the person?
  2. Would they have concrete positive feedback to share?

Too many people default to asking for references from previous employers without fully thinking through what commentary they might have. Avoid making that mistake and be intentional when choosing your references. After you’ve you decided who to ask, be sure you make your reference’s life as easy as possible:

  1. Give them context about the type of job you’re applying for, including the title of the position.
  2. Give them background information on the prospective employer.
  3. Give them plenty of time to write the letter, and don’t bombard them with follow-ups.
  4. Give them the heads up on any specific details they should highlight in the letter.
  5. Most importantly, express your gratitude! Always send a thoughtful thank you note.

Remember the right etiquette when you’re requesting references, and your professionalism will be greatly appreciated. Instead of overthinking it, you can use the email template below as a starting point. Also, you can always refer to the helpful graphic we’ve included the next time you have to ask for a job recommendation.


Subject Line: Professional Reference Request from [Your Name]

Hi [First Name or Mr./Ms. Last Name],
I hope you are doing well! How are things at [Company/School]? 
I know it’s been a while since we last talked, but I was hoping you could help me out by providing a professional reference. I’m applying to be a [Position] at [Company] and thought you would be the perfect person to ask for a recommendation because we worked so closely together on [Project/Task].
The position entails tasks like:
  • [ First Task]
  • [Second Task]
  • [Third Task]
And the hiring manager will want to know about my skills concerning:
  • [First Skill]
  • [Second Skill]
  • [Third Skill]
If you wouldn’t mind [Speaking with a hiring manager/Submitting a letter], could you please send your preferred contact email and phone number? They should be contacting you by [This week/Specific date].
Thank you so much, and please let me know if you need any more details from me. And of course, if you don’t have time to submit the reference I definitely understand.
Appreciate your time!
[Your Name]

I hope this helps! Best of luck requesting your next professional reference.

Want some tips about how to write your resignation letter? Check out this post!


About the Author


Bec McFarland is an experienced HR practitioner, manager, career coach and the creator of Pop Your Career. She delights in sharing practical, straight to the point career advice, spending time with her family and eating Mexican food.

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