How to Deny a Request for a Letter of Recommendation


Professors, businesspeople and even family friends are sometimes asked to write recommendation letters for job or graduate-school applicants. Problems arise if you're unable to fairly or honestly endorse the person. Some people aren't prime candidates for a position because of lacking work ethic or poor academic records. Others you simply don't know or remember well enough to recommend. When either scenario leaves you uncomfortable, it's best to politely decline writing the letter.

  • Respond to the person in the same manner that they inquired about the letter of recommendation. If the person emailed you, respond with an email. There's no need to write a formal letter rejecting the request, as this only makes the person feel worse about the rejection.

  • Tell the person directly that you cannot write a recommendation. If you don't remember him or know him well, point out that he could get a much better, thorough recommendation from someone else. If the denial is based on lack of skill or qualification, take a similar tack. Strongly suggest he seek a recommendation elsewhere, and reveal your frank reservations if necessary.

  • Keep the denial response short and get right to the point. Elaborating on the decision draws out a sometimes embarrassing rejection process and makes it more uncomfortable.

  • Thank the applicant for thinking of you, and wish her the best of luck with future endeavors. Strike a sincere, warm tone.


  • Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images
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