How to write a cover letter reference (and what to include)

Updated 31 March 2023

A person with a connection to a company can aid your application process by mentioning them in your cover letter when applying for a job. Including a reference in your cover letter differentiates you from other candidates and makes your qualifications and skills more credible. A reference is key in highlighting your work background, so having one can help you secure the role. In this article, we discuss what a cover letter reference is, describe a step-by-step guide on how to request one and provide a template and example to guide you in writing yours.

What is a cover letter reference?

A cover letter reference mentions a mutual connection you have with an organisation employee when applying for a job. Referencing demonstrates your value to future employers. You may ask a colleague, friend, an employee of the company you're interested in, a client or your university career office to reference you.

Related: What is a cover letter and why are they so important?

How to ask for a reference

Know how to make your request professional and polite. Remember that the person you're asking, whether a colleague or teacher, can accept or decline your request. Examine these steps to ask for a reference:

1. Choose the right person

Choosing the right person to write your reference is key to a successful job application. Pick someone you worked with previously who knows your skills and abilities. They can give valuable insights into your work style and ethic. For example, if you're applying for an academic position or course, you can ask a tutor or teacher to write your reference.

Related: How to ask for a job referral: a step-by-step guide

2. Make your request at the right time

Request your reference as soon as possible to ensure they have adequate time to write the letter. Give your reference a minimum of two weeks to write the letter. Consider asking them to write the letter during afternoon hours when they've completed most of their daily tasks.

3. Ask in person first

Asking in person helps gauge whether the other person shows interest in writing your reference. It also gives you a chance to discuss the role you're applying for and explain what kind of letter you'd like them to write. This shows your professionalism and politeness when you ask in person and ensures that when the referee receives the email, they're already aware of the request.

Related: How to write about yourself confidently and effectively

4. Send a request formally in writing

After asking and discussing your request in person, follow up with a formal request either by email or a letter. Explain why you're asking this person to write your cover letter reference and provide more detail about your course or role. Include application materials such as a copy of the job description, your CV and cover letter and other key documents that may aid the referee in writing a recommendation letter.

Related: How to introduce yourself in an email (with examples)

5. Appreciate your contact

After receiving the reference, send a thank you note to express your gratitude. Acknowledge the time and effort your reference took to write the letter. This helps you maintain a positive professional relationship with them, which can help your career's future.

Related: How to use a thank you reply for appreciation at work

What to ask for in a cover letter reference

After your reference has agreed to write your letter, consider outlining some of the items you'd like them to write in your letter. This ensures the information you're submitting matches other documents you send to potential employers. Below is a list that can guide you in what to ask your reference to write in your letter:

  • how you and the contact know each other

  • how long you've worked together

  • significant accomplishments you've achieved while working with them

  • some of your strengths in the workplace

  • responsibilities you had

  • your skills and abilities

  • how you got along with other colleagues in the workplace

  • how you performed your duties

Related: How to use the best cover letter format (with examples)

Tips on mentioning a referral

Follow these steps to guide you in mentioning your referral:

  • Mention your referral in the beginning. Include a brief mention of your referral in the first paragraph of your cover letter. This emphasises the recommendation to the hiring manager and reinforces your talents and abilities for the role.

  • Describe how you know the person. Explain how you know the person and give a brief account of how your reference came to know about your work qualification and skills. This makes the reference more credible.

  • Explain why they are referencing you. Outline why they're referencing you and highlight the specific qualities that made them think you are an excellent fit for the company and the job. This showcases your skills and qualifications and shows employers what they can gain by hiring you.

Related: How to address a cover letter (with examples)

Guide on writing a referral cover letter

Receiving a referral for a job can boost your cover letter and differentiate you from other candidates. It can increase your chances of receiving a job offer. Examine this list to help you write your referral cover letter.

  • Describe your reference. Include the name of your reference and describe your relationship with them. This establishes your connection for the reader.

  • Make a positive first impression. Describe your strengths and abilities and outline how your skills can benefit the organisation. These qualities make a positive impression on the hiring manager.

  • Show your interest. Mention what interests you about the position and describe your passion for the job. A hiring manager wants to employ a candidate enthusiastic about the role.

  • Share your achievements. Describe your accomplishments in the workplace and demonstrate why you're the qualified person for the job. This helps you impress hiring managers.

  • Proofread your letter. Once you finish writing your cover letter, proofread it to ensure correct spelling and grammar. Check that the information matches across all documents you submit.

Related: Job interview tips: How to make a great impression

Importance of having a reference

Many employers seek referrals when hiring for open positions. Employee-referred candidates are a source of new hires. Review why having a reference is important:

  • A reference highlights the type of connection you might have with the company and increases your chances of getting hired.

  • Referral contacts can provide insight into how well you'd fit in at the company and describe your skills and professionalism.

  • Your cover letter reference is an avenue your referral contact can share projects you collaborated on and provide details that aren't on your CV.

Cover letter template with a referral

Review this cover letter template to help you write one:

[First name] [Last name]
[Phone number] | [Email address] | [City]


[Company name]

Dear [Hiring manager's first name] [Hiring manager's last name],

[Express excitement for the position, including the role title and the company name]. [Introduce yourself by explaining why you're applying for the job and how the job aligns with your career goals and what specifically draws you to the company. Mention your reference and describe your relationship and work achievements].

[Explain your relevant experience and qualifications without repeating what's in your resume]. [Highlight one to two relevant achievements with facts and data when possible]. [Explain why you'd be a good fit for the company]. [Optional - address employment gap or career transition].

[Express gratitude]. [Summarise qualification]. [Restate interest in the role]. [Call to action + availability and preferred contact method]

[Complimentary close],


Cover letter example with a referral

Analyse this cover letter example to guide you write yours:

Andrew Boyer +44 (0)789 654123 | | London, UK

October 2022

Piccadilly Solutions Ltd.

Dear Peter Fraser,

I'm writing this letter to express my interest in the marketing ambassador position at Piccadilly Solutions. Your head of the marketing department, Lisa Croft, was my supervisor at Redhill Marketing before taking her current position with Piccadilly Solutions. As she can attest, I bring a unique perspective in broadening the organisation's reach and can integrate many options of a media campaign.

Lisa Croft and I worked with a local company to promote and build their business. We continued to work for the company, developing media campaigns and brand awareness for two years. Its successive growth gained us accolades and made other companies seek our services.

I believe I'm the right candidate for the position and I genuinely appreciate considering my application. My six years of experience in marketing equipped me with an overall knowledge of the business directly applicable to your position of marketing ambassador. I look forward to discussing how I can join the team and help the company achieve its goals.

Yours sincerely,
Andrew Boyer

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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