Work Relations, Soft Skills, Email Ettiquette, Follow-Up, Workplace Communication
WORKPLACE SUCCESS / 14 December 2016
6 Best Tips for Getting the Boss's Recommendation
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Crystal Lee

We all know how daunting it can be to ask for a recommendation from the boss, especially when you’re looking to change jobs. You’re probably trying to figure out how you should approach them, or when the ’right time’ is to ask. You probably also have a few other tabs open on the very subject. Well, look no further, my friend. Here at ProSky, we have compiled a friendly, comprehensive list of all the important points you need to remember to get ’rec’d.’

It’s all about articulation.

If you’re leaving your company (hopefully on good terms), you’ll want to have a solid recommendation from your soon-to-be former boss to back you up in your job search. It might seem daunting to approach your superior asking for their endorsement after breaking the news, but as long as you time it right and effectively present your rationale, there isn’t anything to be uncomfortable about.

Your main job is to articulate your request so that your boss understands your reasons for leaving and why their feedback on your work would be valuable. Emphasize that it was a career move you considered very carefully, a decision you made based on significant individual concerns (future goals, financial reasons, personal reasons, logistics, etc.), and that their support would be highly appreciated in your future job search. (Note: You probably don’t want to ask too soon after your initial leave notice). Wait a little bit for the information to settle in, then approach them separately for the recommendation. Allowing your boss to digest the info and take future changes into account lessens the impact of your transition. Think wading into a pool vs. a cannonball.

Follow precedents. If there aren’t any, be as low-maintenance as possible.

Some employers have their own policies regarding references and the like, so if your boss has their own system, make sure to follow their instructions to the letter to make things as convenient as possible for them. Go over their directions and make a list of any questions you have or details you want to clarify so you can get them all out of the way in one conversation. This is to minimize the number of times you have to talk to them about your recommendation—it’s best not to bug them too much, and having to follow-up fifteen times won’t exactly endear you to them.

If there’s no standard process to follow, tailor your approach as best as you can to your employer’s character.

If they’re the type who prefers direct communication, you’ll probably want to approach them in person to ask. If they’re typically very busy or more inclined to following customary protocol, you’ll probably want to send them a formal email request. When in doubt, going with an email is probably the safer option, and you can follow up in person after you send it if you’re so inclined. Just mind the fine line between ‘persistent’ and ‘pushy’.

Keep your emails polite, meaningful, and succinct.

You’ll probably want to start off with the reason you’re asking your boss for their recommendation. Make it clear that you value their opinion and feedback on your work as an employee. Explain that you think having them as a reference would enhance your application and help to further your career. Thank them for being understanding and, if you want to glaze it a little, you can mention that you’ve learned a lot under their wing, or that you’ll always appreciate the experience you’ve gained from working for them, or that it’s been a pleasure to work with them. I don’t quite recommend all three at once, just like I don’t recommend maple syrup on chocolate cake (but if you can pull it off tastefully, then all I have to say is bon appétit).

Next, outline the job you’re applying for and provide a brief description of what you’ll be doing as well as the kinds of skills that are valued in that position. This will give them an idea of what points to focus on and will help them to shape your recommendation accordingly. To provide a bit of content (to make it easier for them to think of things to write about), briefly include some of the important skills you’ve acquired and honed as an employee, any significant projects you’ve worked on, and any relevant professional achievements. Read more here about proper workplace communication.

Gently set a deadline.

Of course, you’d probably prefer if they got back to you with an answer and (hopefully) a recommendation as soon as possible. An eloquent way of doing that without sounding rushed or pushy would be to tag on a polite “at your earliest convenience” (or something along those lines) at the end of your request. It conveys an elegant combination of “I know you’re probably very busy”, “I’d be very grateful for a prompt response”, and just the right hint of “I’d be honored if you would take time out of your busy schedule (to help me)” without the accompanying verbosity. Because no one wants to read a mile-long email.

No surprises.

Assuming your boss agrees to write you a recommendation, let them know that you’ll always inform them beforehand when you use them as a reference during your job search since there’s a possibility that employers will directly contact the writer of your recommendation to enquire about you personally.

 Always let your boss know in advance where you’ll be applying, the specific job you’re applying for, and when they should expect to be contacted so they’re never caught off guard. 

One thing that’s definitely worse than not having a reference would be saying you have a reference and not properly preparing said reference. They’ll get a call out of nowhere, they might be flustered and won’t have anything prepared to say about you, they definitely will not appreciate the lack of prior notice, and you won’t get the job.

Remember to say thank you.

All feedback is powerful, use it to your advantage!

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