Career Planning Finding a Job How to Decline a Request for a Reference By Alison Doyle Alison Doyle Facebook Twitter Website Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts and has counseled both students and corporations on hiring practices. She has given hundreds of interviews on the topic for outlets including The New York Times, BBC News, and LinkedIn. Alison founded CareerToolBelt.com and has been an expert in the field for more than 20 years. learn about our editorial policies Updated on March 30, 2022 Share Tweet Pin Email In This Article View All In This Article You Have the Right to Decline a Reference Request Tips for Declining a Reference Request When Company Policies Ban Reference Letters Samples of Recommendation Request Rejection Letters Photo: Kelvin Murray / Getty Images What can you do if you are asked to write a recommendation letter or to provide a reference for someone you don't want to recommend? Perhaps you have been unimpressed with the person’s job skills, teamwork, or work ethic. Perhaps you simply don’t know them well enough to describe their work performance effectively. In any case, it's better to turn down the request than to endorse someone if you're not comfortable providing the recommendation. You Have the Right to Decline a Reference Request There is never an obligation to give someone a reference. You can politely and diplomatically decline the request without offending the person who asked you. The trick is to do so without making your refusal sound like a personal criticism or a professional rejection. Here are two examples: What to Say If You Don't Know the Person Well: "I am sorry, but I do not feel I know you well enough (or have not worked with you long enough) to provide you with an accurate and thorough recommendation." What to Say If You Do Know the Person: "I do not feel I would be the best person to write you a recommendation," and perhaps provide a suggestion for another person to ask. Tips for Declining a Reference Request Here are tips for how to say no in a professional manner: Don't feel bad about saying no: Sometimes it is difficult to find a way to politely decline the request, but you would appreciate candor if someone you asked for a recommendation chose to decline. It's better not to give a recommendation at all than it is to give a wishy-washy one. Any hiring manager will pick up on the lack of enthusiasm in the reference. Don’t wait: When you need to decline a request for a recommendation, try to do so as promptly as possible. It might be tempting to put it off—no one likes having to let someone down. But delaying is crueler than responding promptly, even if they don’t like what you have to say. You should give the person as much time as possible to line up alternative references if you can’t provide one. Be gracious: It’s better to decline the request than to write a lukewarm endorsement, but that doesn’t mean you have to be rude or overly critical in your response. There’s no need to make the interaction more negative than it needs to be. Besides, most industries are a small world. You never know when you might run into the person again someday at a future job. Be positive: If you can, include some positive feedback. Offer to help in another way; perhaps you can provide some job search advice for their target industry, or recommend a mutual acquaintance who would be a more appropriate person to endorse them. Keep it short: The message you need to convey is short—for a given reason, you’ll be unable to give a reference. A few paragraphs are more than enough to convey what you need to say. Always use "I" statements: Say “I feel that I don’t know you well enough,” rather than, “You haven’t made much of an impression on me.” Maintaining a respectful and mature dialogue will go a long way towards making the difficult refusal of a reference less painful. When Company Policies Ban Reference Letters A growing tendency is for companies to establish policies that limit the granting of references and recommendations. These no-reference policies were developed because of the many cases where employees have sued an employer for providing them with a negative reference. Check with your organization's Human Resources department to determine if such a policy is in place. What to say: "The company does not permit me to provide any references. I would only be able to confirm your job title, employment dates, and salary history. So it would be in your best interest to find someone else to provide a reference." Samples of Recommendation Request Rejection Letters These sample letters and email messages are models to decline the request. As always, tailor them to fit your situation: Example #1 Elizabeth Waters2022 Commerce Street, Ste. 3Oceanside, MA email@example.comJuly 23, 2022Joe Smith37 Chestnut Street, Apartment BBirmingham, MA 02192Dear Mr. Smith,I am glad to hear you are interested in a job in the publishing industry. I do not feel that I worked with you long enough to write you an accurate reference letter for your job search.However, if you have any questions about job searching in the publishing industry, I would be happy to answer them.Sincerely,Signature (hard copy letter)Elizabeth Waters Example #2 Daniel Bruno34 Oak StreetOcean View, NY firstname.lastname@example.orgJuly 8, 2022Terry Johnson12 Main Street, Apt. 3Ocean View, NY 11732Dear Ms. Johnson,I am pleased to hear that you are applying for a sales position with XYZ Company. Unfortunately, since I haven’t had the opportunity to observe your work in this field, I would be unable to offer the strength of endorsement that one of your closer colleagues could.Best of luck in your new endeavor.Sincerely,Signature (hard copy letter)Daniel Bruno Example #3 Nancy Wallis15 Coastal Ave.Los Angeles, California email@example.comFebruary 3, 2022Joe Black34 Sunny WayLos Angeles, California 90001Dear Mr. Black,I received your request for a letter of recommendation. I believe that you would be better served to utilize a reference who is more familiar with your coursework in a field related to the IT position at ABC Systems than I am.I am happy to supply a general character reference, but I would not be able to speak directly to your qualifications for this position.Regards,Signature (hard copy letter)Nancy Wallis Key Takeaways You're not obligated to provide someone with a reference.When you need to decline a reference request, try to do so promptly.You don't need to share details about why you're declining. Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! Tell us why! Other Submit Sources The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. SHRM. "Follow Rules of the Road for Limited-Reference Policies."