How to Politely Refuse Writing a Job Recommendation Letter job recommendation

Refusing to write a job recommendation letter can be awkward, but there are a few things you can do to relieve the tension. There are several options for polite refusal, based on the circumstances. You don't need to be specific about your reasons for not giving a letter of recommendation and you can refuse without giving an impression of hostility or negativity. Be positive in cases where you don't think you'd be a good referee. 

Job recommendation letter issues

It's important to remember that you're well within your rights to be highly selective about giving references or letters of recommendation to anyone. Don't make yourself an easy mark for requests for references. If you've been asked to write a letter of recommendation, there are several things you should consider first:

  • You're committing yourself in writing to the contents of the letter.
  • You're not in a position to alter or retract the information in the letter.
  • You need to be sure that the letter won't be a problem for you.
  • You may not wish to be "everyone's reference", a common nuisance for managers and supervisors.

Dealing with requests

It's a good idea to make it clear to all staff or other parties that you will only consider providing references to a few individuals. That will reduce the number of requests, and only those who believe you'd be receptive to a request will ask you. If you receive a request for a letter of recommendation that you intend to refuse, you can start by stating that it's not your practice to provide any form of reference. There are also several good reasons for not writing recommendation letters:

  • You may not wish to make a commitment as a reference to some individuals.
  • You may not feel that you'd make a good reference in some cases, like highly technical areas where you're not able to provide a sufficiently effective job reference.
  • You may have reservations about giving a reference to particular aspects of a person's work.
  • You really don't want to give a reference to particular people, because of their work quality, or some issues with their performance. 

Examples of What to Say

  • "Sorry, I don't make a practice of giving letters of recommendation. It is just something I never do, on principle" This is an unarguable statement, and doesn't encourage any further discussion. From a manager, it's a good way of shutting down the subject.
  • "I don't think I'm the right person to give a letter of recommendation. I suggest you try your senior technician, who knows a lot more about that element of your work than I do." This is a practical suggestion and a lot better than trying to act as a reference under the circumstances.