Your resume is a one page work of art, your cover letter is a real attention-grabber, and your portfolio highlights your best work. What’s missing?
What’s missing is the link between what you’ve done and how you’ve done it, an objective view of your strengths and skills through the eyes of an outside party. In other words, a recommendation that attests to your work ethic and character.

What Is a Reference Letter

A reference letter acts as a testimony to an individual’s character, skills and achievements. There are a number of reasons someone may require a reference. A few of the most common are:

  • When applying for a job an applicant may be asked to provide references.
  • A student applying to a special program, or graduate school may need to provide recommendation letters.
  • After the completion of a project, companies or individuals may use references or testimonials to make their business more credible and valuable to prospective clients.

Who Should You Ask

There are generally two types of references you may be asked to provide: professional and personal.

Professional References

Professional references come from people you’ve worked with before. When asking for a professional reference, ask individuals that you’ve worked closely with, whether they were colleagues or superiors. If you’ve worked on a special project during which you really displayed some of your best skills and ideas, ask for a reference from someone who was on that same team.

Personal References

Personal references know you outside of work, and can speak to your overall character. This can include a landlord, or a friend or family member. Try to use these types of references sparingly when applying for jobs, since they do not hold as much weight as professional references.

How Should You Ask


You can either give your potential reference a call, or send them an email. Many people prefer to send an email because it takes the pressure off of the other person, since it’s easier to decline through the computer. It also gives them more time to think about whether they would be able to fulfill your request.
Another way to ask is through social media. LinkedIn has a messaging and recommendation system that makes these requests simple.


When asking for a reference try to be as informative as possible, and ask whether they believe they would be able to provide a reference based on the work you’ve done together. Let them know why you picked them to testify to your skills, and why you value their opinion.


Don’t feel badly if they aren’t able to provide you with a reference. They may not have time, or they may not feel that they know you well enough to provide an effective reference letter. Don’t be pushy. Just thank them for the consideration, and move on to the next qualified person.

How to Highlight Your Strengths

One great thing about reference letters is that they may highlight strengths you didn’t even know you had! But if you don’t want to leave it up to chance, here are a few suggestions:

  • Remind the potential reference of the projects you’ve worked on together. This way they can more easily recall specific instances at which you excelled.
  • Provide a template of a reference letter. The easier the reference letter is to write, the more time they will spend focusing on the important aspects of the letter, like your skills.

When you have your references be sure to thank them, and extend an offer to write one back if ever the time comes.
Having reliable references is an imperative part of the job seeking process that will really put your interpersonal skills in focus for prospective employers.