How to Ask for a Reference Letter When You Quit Your Job

Reference letters are a key element in a successful nanny job search.  Even if your employer loves you and is willing to say so in a phone interview, there’s no replacing the impact of a great letter in a great search portfolio.  But getting the letter is often a bit more work than you might think.

When To Ask
It’s a good idea to let the news that you’re quitting sink in for a few days before asking for a reference letter.  Remember you’re delivering bad news to your employers and it will probably feel like you’re rejecting and abandoning them.  (Even if it hasn’t been the best relationship, many families take their nanny quitting very personally.)  Of course you’re thinking about your next move but your employers are still reeling from the news.  Saying “I quit” and in the next breathe asking “And can you write me a reference letter?” isn’t the best way to get a raving review.

The topic will often come up in your resignation conversation.  Your employer might say something like “And of course we’ll give you a great reference!”  But these conversation are emotionally charged and those statements are more declarations of nanny love rather than a real commitment to sit down and write a letter.  Even if they promise a letter during the conversation, don’t assume your employer has added it to her to do list.  In fact, there’s a good chance it’s not even on her radar.  She’s focusing on two more pressing things – how to tell the kids you’re leaving and where to find her next nanny.

Once a few days have passed, it’s the perfect time to bring it up.  If you’ve had a good relationship with your employers and are leaving for reasons unrelated to the employment relationship, the conversation is pretty easy.  Your ask might sound something like:

Nanny: It’s still hard to believe I’m leaving.  I’m going to miss you guys!  But I know I need to get started in my job search.  Would you be willing to write me a reference letter?

If you quit because of issues with your employers, it may feel wrong to ask for a reference letter.  After all, you’re leaving because of them.  However (I’m assuming) you’ve done a great job while you were there and you deserve a letter that reflects that.  Don’t expect the same kind of glowing recommendation a long-term, happy relationship produces but you should receive a positive reference letter.  Your ask might sound something like:

Nanny:  I’m getting started in my job search.  Would you be willing to write me a reference letter?  It’s an important part of my portfolio.  And if there’s anything I can do to help you find a new nanny, please let me know.

Clarify the Process
Many employers don’t understand how important the reference letter is or how it fits into your job search so make a point of laying out the details for them.  The more they understand, the more likely they are to write a great letter and get it to you in a reasonable amount of time.

First, explain that their reference letter will be a door opener for you, helping you land interviews with top agencies and parents.  Many employers assume they don’t need to include details in their letter because they’ll talk to agencies and prospective employers on the phone and can fill them in then.  Unfortunately, that isn’t the way it works.  Vague letters can cripple your search before it gets off the ground.  The reader often feels like something important has gone unsaid and assumes that something is bad.  In these cases, the agency or parent often moves you to the bottom of the pile so your reference never has a chance to fill in the blanks over the phone.  To avoid the vague letter, your ask might sound like:

Nanny:  I know you’re super busy and I really appreciate you taking the time to write me a reference letter.  It’s an important part of my portfolio because it’s one of the things agencies and families read before they even meet me.  Actually it helps them decide if I’m the type of candidate they even want to meet.  So it really is a huge help!

Second, reassure your employers they won’t be bombarded with phone calls and emails.  Let them know lots of people will read the letter but only a few select agencies and families that are serious possibilities will have access to their contact information.  Even the best reference will turn bad if she has to talk to an endless stream of people.  You can reassure your reference by saying something like:

Nanny:  I respect your time and your privacy and won’t give your contact information to anyone except the few agencies I’m working with and once I start interviewing, the families I’m seriously considering.  It will be a short list.  So lots of people will read your letter but only a few will actually contact you.

Third, let them know you’re working on a timeline and set a deadline.  Offer gentle reminders if you need to.  Intentions are great but they won’t help you land your next job.  A simple reminder might sound like:

Nanny:  I’m hoping to have my portfolio finished in two weeks.  Does that give you enough time to write my reference letter?

Nanny:  John, I wanted to give you a gentle reminder that I’m sending out my portfolio next Monday and your reference letter is a key part of it.  I know you’re busy; I really appreciate you taking the time to write me the letter.

Additional Tips
Genuinely ask for a letter.  Don’t assume they’ll write one.  

Keep the tone casual and conversational.  Being pushy, demanding, or entitled is the kiss of death.

If they email you their letter, make sure to print out a copy and ask for a signature.

Offer to write them a reference letter.  Nothing sells a nanny job like hearing from the current nanny how wonderful the family is.

Don’t take hesitation personally.  Remember it’s stressful when a nanny quits and they may be struggling with their feelings around you leaving.


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