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You finally decide to make that big career change, have become a member of the network and are looking forward to a new and challenging job opportunity; then it occurs to you a referral letter or recommendation letter, as it’s sometimes called,  will go a long way in your new career search. How do you approach a former employer and gracefully request a recommendation? A. Harrison Barnes, career coach and founder of sites such as and, says it can be a bit awkward, but recognizing it’s all in an effort to better position yourself and increase your earning potential will allow you to keep it in perspective.

It’s not usually suggested you contact a former employer if it’s been more than two years since you resigned. Your boss may no longer be in that position and his replacement may not be someone who could provide a recommendation. A. Harrison Barnes also suggests your request be made in writing versus a phone call. A letter or even an email will allow your former boss the opportunity to handle the request at his convenience, whereas you never know what you might interrupt with a phone call. While an email is acceptable, you might want to decide on sending a physical letter instead. This will allow you the opportunity to enclose a return envelope, postage paid and self addressed, of course. Anything that will make the request convenient for a former boss to fulfill is always a good thing. When you make your request, be sure you express your appreciation for his time, too.

Not all employers are interested in recommendation letters and for some, it may not even be a deciding factor; many of the featured employers on are far more interested in what a candidate brings to the table in terms of experience, dedication and his ability to do job well. Very few will make a recommendation letter conditional on extending a job offer. Still, many candidates prefer to include a recommendation from a former employer. It’s important to not get caught up in the belief your resume is incomplete without these referrals.

Don’t be too disappointed if you receive no reply. The reasons that might happen are numerous and are likely not a reflection on how the former employer views you and your past job performance. In fact, the reasons might be as simple as your request arrived during an especially hectic time, your former boss could be on vacation or it could have never even made it to your former boss’s office. Try not to focus on why you received no reply, but rather, the good things that await you as you move forward with your new administrative job, nursing job or government job.  Make sure your resume is flawless, your cover letter is well written and of course, you allow to become your partner in defining and locating that new career. Recommendation or not, your unique skills and experience will be what counts in the long run.

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