How to Ask for Professional References and Recommendation Letters

3 minute read

Updated: 1 October 2020

As you say goodbye to your U.S. colleagues at the end of your internship or training program, be sure to hold onto their contact details or connect with them via LinkedIn. Maintaining a friendly relationship with former employers and coworkers is important if you ever need a professional reference, and in most instances, your employer would be more than happy to act as a reference or write a recommendation letter for you.

Man in suit writing a letter of recommendation
Ask your supervisor to be a reference or write you a recommendation letter.
Image courtesy of Pexels

Asking Your Employer to Be a Reference

Most jobs require that you provide two or three references who can speak to your past performances as an employee. Your internship or training program host employer is an obvious choice: having international references will give you an advantage over other job seekers in your home country. When you decide who you would like to act as a reference (usually your supervisor), you should first ask them if they would be willing. Never list someone as a reference unless they have agreed to act as one. Once you receive their consent, make sure you also request:

  • An updated email address
  • A phone number where the person can be reached
  • The person’s current job title

You’ll also want to give your reference an idea of the kinds of jobs you are seeking and your career goals. This way, your reference will be better prepared to answer any questions they may be asked about your career path. If you interviewed for a job and know that they will be contacting your references, it is also extremely helpful to provide your references with a copy of the job description. This will enable them to make comparisons between the tasks you did at your internship or training program and the work indicated in the job description.

Most importantly, you should choose a reference who will speak about you in a positive way. A bad reference could ruin your chances at getting the job you want. Ensure that anyone you ask to be a reference had a positive working relationship with you and is willing to help your job search by highlighting your best qualities.

Asking Your Employer to Write a Recommendation Letter

Always ask for a recommendation letter several weeks to a month in advance to allow your employer enough time to write it. In most cases, your immediate supervisor should provide a recommendation letter, since he or she will have been responsible for overseeing and tracking your progress during your internship or training program. If you need the letter to say anything specific, such as the dates of your employment or the names of any projects you may have worked on, be sure to let the recommendation writer know.

Typically, a recommendation letter will highlight your experience at the company. The person writing the letter should identify him or herself, which demonstrates that they are qualified to comment on your experience. In your case, it would be best to request a very general letter that you could utilize for job applications in various industries.

If some time has passed since you first asked for a letter, it’s okay to send a gentle reminder to your employer. In fact, the best recommendation letters usually take longer to write; your employer will need time to list all of your amazing accomplishments!

Once your employer provides a letter or acts as a reference, do not forget to call or send a note of appreciation for the support in your job search. In the unlikely event that your company does not offer a reference, you should still make sure to thank your employer for the opportunity to intern or train with their organization. They will be glad to know that they made a positive impact on your professional and personal growth.

Man in suit smiles
You want your former employers to see you as a professional!
Photo courtesy of Pexels

Regardless of whether you get the letter, there are a few things you should be doing to present yourself in the most professional manner possible. (Make sure you follow these email best practices!) And make sure that you use LinkedIn strategically to further your career! With these tips in mind, we’re sure you’ll do great!

Allison By

Allison joined the InterExchange team in 2011 and holds a B.A. in International Affairs and an M.A. in Higher Education. She oversees the daily operations of the Career Training USA program where she has the privilege of working with students and professionals from around the world pursuing U.S. internships and training programs. Allison is originally from Massachusetts and studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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