I've been working as a software engineer after graduating with a Masters last year and right now I'm pretty set on trying for grad school entry next year. The way grad school admission works I have to apply this year. I really need one of the letters of reference to come from my current employer (I am only able to source two academic ones for three that are required).

While my workplace is friendly and very supportive of personal and professional development I am slightly concerned of the potential repercussions of asking for this letter of reference. It would be pretty much like giving a notice several months in advance while the consensus on this website seems to be that the best thing to do is to hide the intention of leaving for as long as possible.

I am thinking of how to handle this in a professional way, while still not screwing myself over. When asking a more senior colleague to write me a reference, is it unprofessional to request them to hide this from management? On the other hand, is it even worth it to keep it from management? My manager is also a developer and we work very closely. I don't have any trouble confiding in them except thinking that maybe they will feel obliged to communicate that higher up and act upon it.

  • 2
    If you're going back to grad school and you have a Masters, I assume you're going into a PhD program. If you've only been working in industry for a year, I'd find it pretty unlikely that a recommendation from your employer is going to be of much use to you unless you happen to be in a position where you're basically doing computer science research rather than just writing code. May be worth asking on the academy stack but I'd look harder for an academic reference. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 15:03
  • Even in a case of a really strong technical-professional reference letter vs. a generic random-professor he-did-my-class-reasonably-well academic one?
    – SaladButt
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 18:51
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    That would be my bias unless the professional reference was for a position doing research. A PhD is all about doing original research. Professional coding skills are not particularly important in a PhD program and a year isn't a lot of time so I wouldn't expect an employer reference here to be all that useful. If you're really doing, say, machine vision research for autonomous vehicles at Google or you've published multiple papers in an IEEE journal based on your industry work, that may be a different story. As I said, the folks on the academy stack would be more authoritiative. Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 19:04

2 Answers 2


Be up front, discuss your plans with your manager and ask for a reference. In general it is best to give as little notice as possible, but if your situation demands it then you must.

I'd rather get as much work out of a grateful masters as I can and have him/her leave on good terms for more education. And most if not all managers and bosses would be supportive of such a thing if it's all up front. Plus a year is a long time, things might change before then.


I've been in this kind of situation before, when asking for a reference for an scholarship, that If I were selected I would have to quit my current job a year afterwards, so what I did is to inform my manager about this situation, asking for a reference letter and telling him all the context, unfortunately he didn't take it too well and told me that If I go this way there wouldn't be more benefits for me in the company, no more raises, courses and so on.

What I did after is to make clear that there is no certainty of anything yet and what I'm requesting should not affect my current working conditions. Therefore, If I were selected, I would inform him with enough anticipation to prepare for my departure.

So, it should be clear for your manager that this is a personal and academic development opportunity and they have no right to hinder your development, sometimes they don't take it very well but it depends on the relationship that you have with your manager. If he is a good manager, he should understand it and help you out.

Sometimes a better approach is just to ask a coworker to give you the recommendation and ask him not to bring this to the upper management because it might affect you and that there is no certainty that you will leave your current position, so you don't affect your present career possibilities and you leave the door open to apply to your program without any worries, you should take this approach if you know your manager will not take it very well.

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