Do You Need a Reference or a Recommendation? Know the Etiquette to Ask!

Career Blog

Published: April 5, 2022 by Jillian Collins

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 well. 
  •  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 Recommendation?

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.

Career Opportunities

  • ECAD Library Developer. Apple, Inc. Cupertino, CA. Apply via Careers at Apple
  • Library Analyst. NBCUniversal. Universal City, CA. Apply via LinkedIn

Mark Your Calendar!

Game Changer: Transformational Planning Perspectives hosted by the iSchool’s Leadership and Management Program Advisory Committee

  • Date: April 7, 2022
  • Time: 5:00pm – 6:00pm Pacific Time
  • Location: Keep this link to attend this Zoom event

Café con Ustedes: Noche de Estudio hosted by REFORMA

  • Date: Friday, April 8, 2022
  • Time: 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)
  • Location: Register here to attend this Zoom event


Post new comment