How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

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If you’re interviewing for a job, you probably know you can expect to be asked for a list of references. It’s a standard practice for almost any job application. But just because it’s a repetitive part of the process doesn’t mean you have to keep submitting the same old boilerplate list of references. If you’re looking to take it a step further and elevate yourself above the competition, a professional letter of recommendation is what you need.

While it’s uncommon that an employer will explicitly request a letter of recommendation (most just ask for references), don't overlook the value. A letter of recommendation can provide a hiring manager with a better sense of your skills than the quick run-down of your dates of employment they’d otherwise hear from HR.

Use the tips below to make the process as smooth as possible and to ensure you’re doing your part to get the most out of any recommendation letter.


Before You Ask: What to Consider

There are a few prerequisites you need to cover before asking for a letter of recommendation. The following points are essential to any chance of receiving a quality recommendation letter:

1: You actually know who you’re asking

It might seem obvious that you should know the person you’re asking to write you a letter of recommendation, but it's a common mistake to think you can ask anyone as long as they were your professor, boss, or supervisor. Such is not the case: the purpose of the letter is to provide valuable insight into who you are and the value you can bring to an organization. The professor you had all year but never spoke to or the boss you never saw much of in the workplace aren’t the right people for the job.

2: You have a positive history and relationship with the person whom you’re asking

Maybe the supervisor or professor you’re thinking of asking knows you quite well, but it’s because you constantly asked for deadline extensions or had a habit of being late. You want to make sure that you have good standing with whoever you choose to ask – avoid asking someone who may have a reason not to give you their full stamp of approval.

3: The person you ask is relevant to the position you’re applying to

If you’re applying for a management role, select someone who observed your management skills firsthand. Whomever you ask should be able to speak to your skills in a way that’s relevant to the job you’re seeking.


How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Once these basics have been covered, it’s time to learn how to successfully ask for the letter of recommendation. Below are some tips:

Know the Purpose of the Letter

You want to make the letter writing process as easy as possible for the person you’re asking, and this starts with letting them know the letter’s purpose. This helps them determine what parts of your experience they should focus on, as well as what can be left out. If you don’t go into detail about what the letter is for and what parts of your history are the most relevant, you might end up with a vague letter that doesn’t serve its purpose: to help you stand out!

Who is the Letter For?

Don’t forget to tell the person writing your letter who will be reading it. Besides helping with practical details such as who they should address the letter to, this information guides the style and tone they use. Knowing their audience informs how they describe their experiences with you, as well as the specific details they use.

Include Your Resume

You want to give the person writing your letter of recommendation as much information as you can to help them write a quality letter. One way to do this is by highlighting the skills and experiences on your resume that are most relevant to the job you’re applying. This gives them specific information to work with and ensures they aren’t left grasping when they sit down to write the letter.

Don’t Wait to Ask

If you planned on asking someone for a letter of recommendation for the job application that’s due in a week, don’t. Besides being unprofessional, it lowers the chances that you’ll end up with a high-quality letter. Even if they did bend over to get you a letter on short notice, it’s quality may be sacrificed. You wouldn’t want your job application tied to a hastily written reference letter. Asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation is a big favor – it’s your responsibility to make it as easy as possible for them.

Asking for a letter of recommendation can feel intimidating. But by taking the time to follow the steps above, you can feel confident knowing you’ve covered the most important bases when you reach out and make that request!


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