How to Ask for Recommendations & References

How to Ask for Recommendations & References

Q: What is the best way to ask for a recommendation from a contact?


Recommendations are a great way to highlight the quality of your work and your skill set while serving as an impactful self-promotional tool. They can take different forms – whether it’s a testimonial on a website, a letter of reference, an employment verification (or phone reference), or a recommendation on LinkedIn.

The latter is particularly easy, as LinkedIn has a dedicated functionality and form that you can use to request recommendations from a first-degree contact. This takes the awkwardness out of emailing or messaging the person, and it’s a commonly used feature.

Other formats might require a different approach. First, think about who you want to solicit for a recommendation or reference in terms of 1) their relationship to you – which should be professional in some regard, and 2) the capacity in which they can speak to your experience and skill set.

This might be a former or current supervisor, a direct report whom you managed, a colleague or peer, or even someone outside of the organization, such as a customer or vendor. The capacity in which you’ve worked with these people may differ, and their individual testimonial can offer a particular value. Likewise, including recommendations from a range of individuals that show different working relationships can provide a broader picture of your capabilities and contributions.

I find people are often more receptive to writing a recommendation if you educate them on exactly what you’d like them to communicate in the reference. In some cases, your contact may request that you prepare a draft of the recommendation that they can edit and approve. At the very least, it is helpful to offer to provide your contact with a couple of key points around which they can construct the recommendation. This makes it easier on them and gives you more control over what’s presented on your behalf.

Here is a sample text you can use:

Hi, Hillary–

As you may know, I am in the process of starting my job search and would love to have a strong portfolio ready to present to potential employers. As part of that, I’m looking to put together a couple of references/recommendations from people whom I respect, and who I feel can speak to my skill set and experience.

I was wondering if you would be willing to write a brief recommendation on my behalf emphasizing my experience in [X, Y, Z]. I’m happy to put together a couple of thoughts or a rough draft if that would save time for you.

Thanks in advance!