How To Write A Thank-You Letter For A Reference (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 9, 2020

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References can be one of the most important parts of your resume, as they provide an opportunity to verify your skills and experience. It may (or may not) surprise you that lying or stretching the truth on resumes and job applications is quite common.

Thus, a professional reference serves an essential role in vouching that your resume’s claims are correct and accurate. Having someone else say that you are a hard worker simply holds more weight than saying it yourself. Good references can make or break an application.

Who and How to Ask for a Reference

Figuring out how to ask for a reference – or who to ask – can be a bit challenging. In part, we are aware that we are asking someone to take time out of their day to do something on our behalf. Especially if your intended reference is a busy person or someone with a lot of responsibilities.

Being a reference is a commitment of time and energy. This is all the more reason why writing a thank-you letter for your references is meaningful and impactful.

Whether you’re thanking someone for being an academic reference, or a professional reference, a little bit of gratitude goes a long way. You can thank them in person, through a written letter, or – as is the subject of this article – in a well-written email.

There are different reasons for choosing each route, as we’ll get into later. However, email thank-you letters are a great option due to email’s ubiquity in the professional world. Email is also the most convenient option, as they only take a couple of minutes to create and send.

Below you’ll find some guidelines on how to construct your email thank-you letter, why thank-you letters are necessary, when not to send an email, and some examples of how these tips might look in action.

What an Email Reference Thank-You Letter Should Include

In the process of asking for a reference letter, the hard part is already over. You’ve already made the ask, gotten a yes, and utilized the reference. Now comes the final step, writing the thank-you letter.

Writing a thank-you email is quite simple, but small gestures like these build up over time and demonstrate your overall character.

When it comes to writing a thank-you email for a reference, here are some basic guidelines of everything you need to include:

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  • A subject line including your name and mention of the reference. Your reference writer likely receives a lot of emails in a day. A good subject line helps to quickly signify the nature of the email you’ve sent, so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

  • Your greeting, addressed explicitly to the reference writer. Your greeting will typically be “Dear [name],” but it could be less formal, depending on the circumstance. Always be sure that you are correctly spelling your reference writer’s name, or your gesture of kindness may backfire.

  • Your thanks for the reference. It’s a thank-you letter, so naturally, you’re going to want to include the words “thank you” or some variation of that. Clearly express your gratitude for the reference.

  • Recognition of the vital role the reference played. References can carry a lot of weight and can even be a deciding factor in some cases. Putting this into writing makes your recipient feel good about themselves and their ability to affect change. Acknowledge that your reference writer’s work was significant and impactful.

  • Your closing. Otherwise known as a salutation. This can be something like “Regards,” “Sincerely,” or “Best,” depending on the level of formality you’re trying to portray.

  • Your signature. Your full, typed name. The email substitute for a written signature. In an email, this will simply go on the next line right after your closing.

  • Proper formatting. Be sure to include appropriate (email) letter-writing formatting and conventions to keep your email professional and easy to read. You’ll also want to proofread and make sure there are no grammar or spelling errors.

Once you have these simple rules down, you’ll be able to write email thank-you letters with no problems.

Why It’s Important to Say Thank You

You may wonder if it’s even necessary to write a thank-you letter. We highly suggest that you do. Letters of thanks are quite common in the professional world, which is another opportunity to practice them. Graciously asking for favors is an invaluable professional skill, and part of that involves offering thanks after the fact.

Here are a few reasons why it’s important to say thank you and why an email thank-you letter for a professional reference is a smart move:

  1. It shows integrity. Integrity – one’s dedication to doing the right thing – is one of the most sought after characteristics in the professional world. It’s not something you can fake, but it is something you can build up over time. Gestures of kindness like this show that you are thoughtful and that you care about others.

  2. It’s the polite thing to do. Your reference writer took time and energy out of their busy schedule to do you a favor, so you should acknowledge this effort by extending gratitude. As you know, others’ time is equally as important as your own. The polite response to favors, in general, is a sincere thank you.

  3. It helps build and sustain your network. A sturdy network is one of the most important things to build for career advancement and opportunities. Developing a habit of making small, positive investments in your professional relationships will go a long way to develop and sustain your network.

  4. It’s simple and easy. If you can send an email, you can send a thank-you email. Email thank-yous are a great choice if you’re looking for a convenient way to show appreciation. It will likely take less than five minutes to craft a friendly, personalized thank-you letter.

  5. It’s a small gesture that carries a lot of weight. Though it is a simple and easy thing to do, your letter of appreciation is still greatly appreciated by the recipient. People like to receive praise and be told that they are helpful, so your reference writer will be happy to receive your message.

  6. The recipient will be more likely to continue providing recommendations for you in the future. Showing your gratitude to someone you wish to continue using as a professional reference is crucial. Remember that their recommendation is based on their overall view of your skills, work ethic, and character.

When Not to Send an Email

While writing a thank-you email is usually a good idea, there are a few circumstances when it may not be the best choice.

For instance, if you collected a reference letter from someone in-person and then thanked them in-person at that very moment, you don’t have to send a letter of gratitude. It can still be a nice gesture if you want to, but you don’t need to re-state your thanks if you’ve already given it.

In other instances, you won’t want to send a thank-you email because it’s more appropriate to send a handwritten or physical letter. If your reference writer sent in a physical letter, consider taking the time to write a physical thank-you letter as well. You’ll also want to send a physical letter in more formal or traditional industries.

Remember that a physical letter is much more of an “event” than an email. So go for this option whenever you really feel the need to emphasize your appreciation.

3 Examples of Emails Thanking Someone for Being a Reference

Below are some sample letters you can refer to when writing your own thank-you email. Vary your greeting, closing, and tone to match your desired formality or familiarity.

Thanking a Reference with a General Update Email Example

Subject: [Liana Moore Reference]

Dear Elliot,

I want to sincerely thank you for the reference you provided me for the digital marketing strategist position at Lind LLC. I met with the hiring manager Liz Hurley earlier today and had an excellent interview. She says I can expect to hear back from her within a week.

I appreciate your help and support immensely. I’m certain that your endorsement was a deciding factor in my receiving an interview, as your word carries a lot of weight in this industry.

Thank you again.

Regards,
Liana Moore

Thanking a Reference When You’ve Landed the Job Email Example

Subject: [Roger Hamish — Thank You for the Reference]

Hey Alicia,

Thank you so much for the reference you gave to Larkin Ltd on my behalf. I just wanted to give you a quick update and let you know that I was offered the position today.

I know that your good word played a large part in opening up this new opportunity for me. I have deep gratitude for your help, and I won’t forget it.

Many thanks,
Roger Hamish

Thanking an Academic Reference Email Example

Subject: [Reference, Mia Thorne]

Dear Ms. Stone —

Thank you for the recommendation letter you provided for my college application process. I have been accepted to three colleges so far, and I have been offered a scholarship to one.

I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the help of your letter of recommendation. I greatly appreciate your willingness to help with this process.

Let me know if there is any way I can return the favor!

Sincerely,
Mia Thorne

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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