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Why Are Reference Letters Important for Getting a Job?

Reference letters carry a fair amount of weight in the hiring process. Learn how they can give you the edge you need in a competitive job market.

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Job seekers know they need to leverage every advantage possible to stand out, especially when landing their dream job. Reference letters offer a personalized touch to job applications by providing crucial context to your skillset and character in ways a resume can't.


Reference letters—also called letters of recommendation—are one of the most important tools for your job search. It's an overall statement of your skills, achievements and why your previous success means you will also add value in your next role.

Whether you enlist someone you know to write a recommendation letter for admittance into an educational program, for an internal promotion, or for your job search on a job board like ZipRecruiter, it's never a bad idea to have a collection of personalized letters that sing your praises.

So, why are reference letters important for getting a job, and what do you need to know about them?

Who should I ask to write a reference letter?

Hiring managers like to see at least one recommendation letter, but three to five is the best practice. Your references may vary depending on your industry and professional experience, but you'll want to select people who had a positive working relationship with you. This could include former managers, colleagues, mentors, or direct reports.

Recent college graduates hitting the job market for the first time can request university professors and career counselors to provide reference letters to help them stand out.

What information should be included?

Reference letters for jobs don't need to be long, but they should focus on your experience, achievements, and skillset. When asking someone to write a recommendation letter, include your resume and a job description of the positions you're applying to. This can help provide context for the industry and the type of experience they need to highlight.

Recommendation letters should provide concrete examples of your past accomplishments and specific skillsets you possess that are required for success in your field. They should also establish who is writing the letter, their relationship to you, and an endorsement of your future potential.

The purpose of a reference letter is to paint a picture of who you are to hiring managers. This includes how you'll be a great fit in terms of office culture and technical skills.

When to reach out for a reference letter.

It's better to have quality recommendation letters ready before you need them in a pinch. You'll want to show that you respect your references' time by giving them a reasonable deadline to construct a thoughtful writeup instead of imposing a tight turnaround.

Some of the best times to ask for reference letters are when your contributions are top of mind, when you or a close co-worker leave a company, when you leave a university or after a situation when you made a significant impact at your current job. This way, you'll have a collection of recommendation letters in your toolbox for when you're ready to find your next job opportunity.

If you're still looking for the next big step in your career, ZipRecruiter can help. It's rated the #1 job site in the U.S.1 and makes finding relevant jobs easy. ZipRecruiter uses powerful matching technology to show your profile to employers who invite you to apply — so you'll know if you're a great match before even submitting an application. Savvy jobseekers know what it takes to stand out in a sea of applications and ZipRecruiter is the competitive advantage you need.

1 Based on G2 satisfaction ratings as of December 31, 2020

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