We started with the basics in
“Do You Need a Reference or a Recommendation? Here’s How to
Tell.” Our other blog posts, “So, You
Need a Reference? Here’s What to Know,” and “So,
You Need a Recommendation? Here’s What to Know,”
explored and explained the nuances of each. Yet, a key aspect is
the professional etiquette of requesting a recommendation or
asking someone to be a reference – and that’s how this series is
going to end and putting knowledge into practice begins.
Writing to Ask…
References and recommendations are active – used during – your
job seeking process. A person who has a strong sense of your
achievements and can understand what they can do to help you
succeed makes the perfect person to ask. But before giving their
info to a potential employer:
- Make sure they know. It can be tempting to
assume that a former boss you are “cool” with will drop
everything to respond as a reference, or if you would like them
to provide a recommendation. However, it’s not “cool” on your
end. Send an email in advance, asking if they would be willing
to act as a reference, or provide a recommendation, as you are
applying for or are interviewing with potential employers.
- The subtle hint of a “prompt.” So, you’ve
started composing an email to an instructor you had, and both
of you agree you rock at research. Now, you’re applying for a
very specific position that is research intensive. Where? What
type of research? And can you give a hint for them – a
prompt, without really dictating what you want them to say?
When corresponding, insert the idea and some info about a
specific position-related example they know you did, or do
- How would they like to be contacted?
This is important. Your reference or recommendation depends on
the person you ask, and you don’t want to leave a sour taste in
their mouth. This shows self-awareness on your end. Maybe the
email address you use to correspond with them is informal and
they would rather you use their professional one. Maybe they want
to talk with your potential employer on the phone. And reach out
well in advance, so they can decide on their course of action.
Are They Able to be a Reference or Provide a
Consider a time when you were told to do something. Did you feel
good? Probably not. When you are asked though, and given an
option to do something or not, it’s more comfortable to say
“Yes!” or “No.”
Remember that people have lives outside of the capacity you know
them. You want to give them the chance to accept or decline.
Using phrases like, “If you feel comfortable…,” “If you have
time…,” or “Would you mind if…” means a lot to the person. It
shows you respect them, as much as they respect you.
And a “No” doesn’t mean they don’t like you. Maybe they have no
time. Maybe they have little experience acting as a reference, or
never been asked to be a recommendation. Maybe they are going
through a lot and really can’t take another thing, but know you
are great and wish they could help.
Regardless, thank them. Both in your initial request, and in the
reply to whatever response they give. “Please” and “Thank You” go
a long way!
And if you don’t hear back before your interview, don’t use them
as your reference, and don’t expect to stall for time for their
recommendation. If you use their name without permission, it’s
careless. As in, it shows you don’t care about their time, or the
time spent by a potential employer interviewing you.
Remember: you are getting the ball rolling. So, make sure that
others know you’re ready to roll.
Quick Jot from Jillian
Words like “reference” and “recommendation” are easily confused
when it comes to the intricacies of applying for a job. There is
also the factor that you are approaching someone else to be part
of your career stepping stones – requesting they take time to
vouch for you, as you’re applying for a position.
You’ve acquired knowledge of a reference, a recommendation, and
why you need to know the difference. But you also have the most
valuable part: the etiquette involved, and knowing that as you
respect others, they will respect and speak highly of you.
At the end of the day, you provide the best example. Your work is
not just getting something done – but also the work you put into
professional relationships. The goals you have need the support –
and testimony – of those you’ve helped support.