How to Get a Reference Letter After Quitting Your Job

Some people aren’t satisfied in their current careers. They may hate their assignments, or feel they deserve to earn more. If you can sympathize, you might make the decision to quit your job and move on. Given the amount of time you spend at work every week, it’s important to be somewhat happy with the direction of your career, or else you’ll live your days nervous, agitated and burnt out.

See Also: How to Ask for a Reference From an Employer

As you look for a new job, you may come to the realization that a reference letter from an employer can work to your advantage. There’s likely a huge pool of qualified candidates competing for limited job opportunities. A reference letter, which basically explains to a prospective employer why you’re the best person for the job, carries a lot of weight and can get your foot in the door. But if you’ve recently quit a job, it can be awkward to ask your employer for a recommendation letter.


Even if your employer wasn’t too thrilled with the news of you moving on, you shouldn’t let this stop you from getting the letter. The trick is knowing the best ways to ask.

1. Know the Right Time to Ask

When asking for a reference letter after quitting your job, timing is everything. You want to ask your employer when he or she is most relaxed and calm. If you go into your employer’s office and announce that you’re leaving the company in two weeks, this might not be the best time to ask for a letter of reference. A lot of stuff might be going through his mind. If he’s swamped with work, he might frantically worry about how he’ll replace you and train someone new in a short amount of time. Let your employer know that you’ve enjoyed working for the company and thank him for the opportunity. Give him time to digest the news — maybe a couple of days — and then approach asking for a recommendation letter.

2. Ask the Right Person

There’s no rule that says you have to ask your immediate supervisor for a letter of reference. You might also work closely under another supervisor, and this person might be happy to provide a reference letter. Choosing the right person is important because you want this letter to highlight your good qualities and skills, and discuss your contributions. If you and your immediate supervisor didn’t get along and you don’t think he’ll give a positive reference, approaching someone else increases your chances of getting a positive letter. If you feel your employer won’t offer a fair reference, you can ask someone in human resources for a reference letter. This department is likely familiar with your employee evaluations and reviews, so they might have more than enough information to write a stellar reference letter on your behalf.

3. Make the Request Personal

If you’ve already left your job and you’re looking to get a letter of reference, you might feel more comfortable emailing your former employer. This way, you don’t have to speak with him, and you may feel that you’re able to explain yourself better through email. However, use email as a last resort when contacting someone for a reference letter. Put your nervousness aside and pick up the phone. A phone call is more personal and immediate. Your past employer might no longer use the email you have on file, or your message could get stuck in his spam folder.

4. Make it Known That You Value His Opinion

When asking an employer to write a letter of reference after quitting your job, let him know that you’re asking because you value his opinion — even if you didn’t leave on the best terms. Use this opportunity to explain how much you benefited by working for the company. Maybe you acquired new skills, or maybe your former boss contributed to your growth as an employee. The goal is to get a glowing letter of reference to increase your odds of getting hired for a new position, so you might need to stroke your former employer’s ego a little bit.

5. Does he Feel Comfortable?

If you had an excellent relationship with your former employer, asking for a letter of reference shouldn’t be an issue. Most employers realize that their employees won’t be with the company forever. They eventually move on to jobs with more responsibilities and perhaps a bigger pay check. Therefore, these employers don’t have a problem vouching for a former employee’s skills and qualifications.

On the other hand, if your relationship with a former employer wasn’t great, he might not feel comfortable writing a letter of reference. In this case, you can ask for a reference letter, but then give your former employer a way out. After telling him that you value his opinion, ask whether he feels comfortable writing a letter of reference. If he doesn’t, let him know you’re perfectly okay with this. Although a reference letter can help your job search, it might be better “not” to provide a letter of reference than give a prospect employer a letter that’s negative and paints you in a bad light.

6. Provide a Copy of Your Updated Resume

When asking for a letter of reference, you want the information in the letter to be specific to the job you’re applying for. So, you’ll need your former employer to highlight your skills and qualities that are relevant to the position. For that matter, provide your former boss with information about the job you’re applying for.

It might also be helpful to email him a copy of your updated resume and the job description. Employers base a letter of reference off their experience working with you. If the job you’re applying for involves working with people or customer service, your former employer can mention that you worked well with people or that you’re a team player. Additionally, don’t be afraid to tell your former employer which areas and qualities to focus on. It’s pointless for an employer to write an entire letter highlighting qualities that have nothing to do with the position.

7. Don't Wait Until the Last Minute

If you need a reference letter for a job, you might put off asking a former employer until the last minute, especially if you didn’t have a great relationship with him. However, it takes time to write a good reference letter, so you should give the employer enough time to gather his thoughts, write the letter and get it back to you. If possible, give him at least a week to finish the letter. Make sure you provide the email, fax number or address of the recipient. Or stop by the office and pick up the letter once it’s complete. Let the employer know how much you appreciate him writing the letter and follow up with a “thank you” note within a couple of days.

See Also: How to Get a Reference Letter After Getting Fired

Finding a new job can be tough given the amount of competition. Although your resume and application says a lot about your skills, getting a letter of reference from an employer can put you ahead of the competition, proving you’re the right person for the job.

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Have you ever been through this procedure? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments section below.