A Guide to Asking for Letters of Recommendation
Whether you are applying for a new job, writing your application to enter graduate school, or are looking for a scholarship, you may be asked to provide a letter of recommendation.
A letter of recommendation is a document written by a former co-worker, professor, or a teacher who has direct experience working with you. The goal of the letter is to give an employer an opportunity to hear about your work ethic and skills from other people who have encountered you in a professional context.
In this guide, we’re going to cover the basics of how you can ask for a letter of recommendation, and walk through an example letter you can send to request a letter of recommendation from someone.
Whom to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Typically, letters of recommendation are written either by former teachers or professors, or a former coworker or manager. This is because these people will all have had direct experience either managing you, or working with you in a professional environment.
Seeking a letter of recommendation from a former teacher is common if you are applying for a scholarship or graduate school.
In addition, you may want to seek a letter of recommendation from a teacher if you are just transitioning into the workforce, because you may have no other people you can ask who can attest to your working habits.
Former coworkers and managers are also good people to ask when you are seeking a letter of recommendation. The people you should ask are those who have direct experience working with you, and who would feel comfortable providing a clear and unbiased insight into how you work to an employer.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
“My boss is busy! Should I ask for a letter of recommendation?” and “What if they don’t give me a good recommendation. I thought I was a good employee.” may be thoughts that are going through your mind.
But you shouldn’t let asking for a letter of recommendation worry you! If you know how to structure your ask correctly, most people will be happy to write you a professional letter of recommendation, especially if you have a good relationship with them.
Here are a few tips you can use to ask for a letter of recommendation from an employer:
Tip #1: Make a list of people who can write a good recommendation letter.
Before you start asking people to write a letter of recommendation for you, consider from whom you really want a letter of recommendation.
Suppose you are applying for a college scholarship. You may want to seek letters of recommendation from all the professors whose classes you succeeded in from last year. Or, if you are applying for a job, you may want to seek a letter of recommendation from your former manager, with whom you had a good relationship.
By thinking about to whom you are going to reach out in advance, you can eliminate some of the awkwardness associated with asking for a letter of recommendation, and at the same time maximize your chances of receiving a positive response.
Tip #2: Ask.
This may sound simple, but it’s the only way you will ever get a recommendation letter. Make the ask to the person who you want to write a letter.
Once you have decided who you want to write you a letter of recommendation, ask them politely whether they will have the time to do so. By asking them upfront, you’ll be able to give them more information on why you need a letter written, and also discuss what they can include in your recommendation letter.
For instance, if you are seeking a letter of recommendation from a former manager, you could say something like the following to them:
“I have just submitted an application for a position to become a full-stack web engineer at Google, and the hiring manager has asked me for a letter of recommendation from my prior manager. I was wondering if you would have the time to write this letter so that I can meet the application requirements.
Given how much we worked together while I was managed by you, and given how I considered you to be somewhat of a mentor, I believe your insights would be valuable.”
When you make the ask, make sure you are direct and clear on the intent behind your ask.
You may also decide to write a formal letter to make your ask. This is a good way to make sure the person you are asking for a recommendation letter has a paper record of your ask, and gives them a place they can go if they need to remind themselves of the context behind the letter. We’ll walk through a template that you can use later in this article.
Tip #3: Suggest what the author could include.
While “Can you write me a letter of recommendation?” is technically a way of asking for a letter, this question lacks one crucial piece of information: what you want the author to include in the letter.
If there are any specific points you want the author to include, ask whether or not the author can cite those points. For instance, if there was a particular project you worked on that you are especially proud of completing, you may want the author of the letter to include it.
You want to avoid being too insistent on what the author should include. If you think there are a few accomplishments that the author should mention, that’s fine — feel free to mention them. However, it’s ultimately up to the author to decide what they should include.
For instance, in your ask you could say:
“Thank you for writing this letter for me, I appreciate it. One of my proudest accomplishments from working on this team was helping us improve our sales prospecting systems. Would you mind mentioning this in the letter, if you think it best reflects my impact on this business?”
Tip #4: Offer to write the letter yourself.
There is a high chance that the person you ask for a letter of recommendation will be busy.
For instance, teachers in academia often have to write dozens of recommendation letters — if not hundreds — every year as students apply for scholarships, graduate school, and new courses. In addition, your old boss may be swamped with other tasks, and so they may not have the bandwidth to write a full letter of recommendation for you.
If you are worried about the time availability of someone from whom you want a letter of recommendation, you could offer to write the letter on their behalf.
This means that you should write a draft letter, and then send it to the person who has agreed to write the letter for a review. After they have received the letter, you should give them an opportunity to edit it, choose whether any changes need to be made, and sign their name.
Tip #5: Send a thank-you note.
After someone has sent you their letter of recommendation, you should be sure to send them a thank-you note in return. This is a good way to make someone clear on the fact that you have not taken their letter for granted, and will make them more comfortable writing letters of recommendation for you in the future if you need them.
Sample Letter to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
There are two ways you can ask for a letter of recommendation. First, you can ask the question directly, in-person. Second, you can submit a letter to ask for a recommendation. This approach is useful because it allows you to maintain a paper trail of your communications, and keep track of the people from whom you have sought a letter.
Here is an example letter you can use to ask for a letter of recommendation:
Dear Mr. Alexander,
I have just submitted an application for the position of senior sales associate at [new company]. I have been notified by the hiring manager that they would like to interview me, but before doing so they would like a letter of recommendation from someone who is well positioned to discuss my work habits and accomplishments.
Given how you were my manager for three years, I believe you would be well suited to write this letter on my behalf.
If you have the time, I would appreciate it if you could write a letter of recommendation that emphasizes the impact I had on [company] during my tenure as a [position]. The due date for submitting this letter to [new company] is [date]. If you cannot write the letter by this date, please let me know. I would be happy to prepare a draft on your behalf if that would be easier for you to manage.
Please do let me know if you have any questions, or require any additional information.
Letters of recommendation are commonly used by companies to evaluate job applicants, and in academic environments such as college admissions and scholarship application processes.
While asking for a letter of recommendation from a boss or a teacher may seem intimidating, if you have a good relationship with them, you should not worry at all about asking them for the letter. Indeed, they’ll likely be happy to assist you!
To effectively ask for a letter of recommendation, make sure your ask is clear and specific, and gives the author all the information they will need to effectively write your letter. In addition, you should make suggestions on what the author should include if you believe there are any accomplishments in particular that showcase your skills.
By following the tips in this article, you should have no trouble asking for a letter of recommendation from a professor, teacher or a boss.