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How to ask for a letter of recommendation (with examples)

February 23, 2022 - 21 min read

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What are letters of recommendation typically for?

Letters of recommendation vs. references

Steps to ask for a letter of recommendation

Who to ask for a letter of recommendation

What is the fastest way to ask for a letter of recommendation?

How to ask for a letter of recommendation via email

Tips for requesting a letter of recommendation

Letter of recommendation request samples

Although it’s not always required, a recommendation letter can increase your chances of being hired for your dream job.

But do you know how to ask for a letter of recommendation? And who to ask?

Asking for a letter of recommendation can be quite daunting, especially if you haven’t done it before. You want to ask someone who will be honest and highlight your best attributes and accomplishments.

Here’s how to confidently ask for a letter of recommendation and some examples to use.

What are letters of recommendation typically for?

A recommendation letter is written by someone who can recommend your professional or academic performance. Because the writer is personally recommending you, the letter can add favorable weight to your reputation. It shows that you have the personality, character traits, and abilities to succeed in the program or role you’re applying for.

Most letters of recommendation fall under two categories: employment and academic recommendation letters.

Employment recommendation letters are typically used to apply for a new job or to help you get a promotion. They are sent to potential employers or hiring managers in addition to your job application.

Because letters of recommendation help make a good first impression, they can create opportunities for your career development and 5 year plan. A well-written letter can give you that confidence boost you need to overcome job search depression and nail your dream job.

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Academic recommendation letters are usually for college applications, scholarships, or fellowship programs. They are often sent to admissions officers as part of the application process. These letters provide additional information about your academic achievements and talents.

Most selective colleges and universities require one to three recommendation letters with your application. They are usually written by a guidance counselor or teacher. 

In this article, we are going to focus on letters of recommendation in a career setting.

Letters of recommendation vs. references

While they may sound similar, references and a letter of recommendation are not the same things.

A reference letter is more general in nature than a letter of recommendation. It is a broad assessment of skills and experience. Reference letters are usually addressed "To Whom It May Concern" rather than a specific person.

Potential employers will often ask for a list of references in addition to your resume to determine if you’re a good fit for a role. According to a recent survey, 94% of employers conduct at least one kind of background check.

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Each reference should include the contact information of people who have agreed to vouch for your character and skills. For references, you can ask former employers, supervisors, business contacts, mentors, clients, teachers, lecturers, or faculty members. 

A letter of recommendation also covers a person’s work ethic, attitude, and suitability for what they are applying for. It is a unique letter written based on the writer’s personal experience with you.

A good letter of recommendation is often stronger than a reference because the writer is recommending you for a certain job or program. These letters are addressed to a specific recipient, such as the hiring manager of a company.

Choosing the right person to write your letter of recommendation is essential. While it’s ideal for them to be a professional in their field, what’s more important is their relationship with you. Choose someone that has an understanding of your personality and career aspirations

Depending on your situation, you could ask a manager, supervisor, teacher, or coach. While they may know you best, family members and close friends aren’t a good idea, as they have an emotional bias.

It’s also important not to ask the same person to be both a professional reference and to write a letter of recommendation. This is because they serve different purposes.

It’s also preferable to have a diverse group of people vouching for your abilities. If the same person writes your letter of recommendation and acts as a reference, this could appear as though you do not have enough people willing to attest to your skills and personality.

Steps to ask for a letter of recommendation

Let’s look at what each step entails.

1. Make a list of possible people to ask

Before you dive in and send your request, think about who would be the best person for the task. Make a list of your networking connections that are close to you. Remember, they should know you well enough to speak to your character on a personal level.

2. Reach out to the person, followed by a formal letter

If possible, it’s best to have an in-person conversation with the person you’d like to write your letter of recommendation. Writing a letter of recommendation requires time and effort, so you should put in some effort to connect with them, too.

If you can’t ask in person, the next best thing is to give them a call or send a friendly email. We’ve covered how to ask for a letter of recommendation via email below. 

Once you’ve made that initial connection, email a formal written request. This way, you can include all the necessary details, and you’ll have a paper trail of the request.

3. Provide enough time

Most professionals have busy schedules and many priorities to consider. Even if they are eager to write your letter of recommendation, you should give them ample time to write it. The last thing you want is a rushed letter.

4. Send your resume or brag sheet

Make it easy for the person writing your letter by sending them your updated resume or ‘brag sheet.’ A brag sheet is a list of relevant and transferable skills and accomplishments that you would like highlighted.

Sending these documents won’t just make the writer’s life easier. It will also prevent them from leaving out any important details that they may not have been aware of. 

5. Provide other necessary details

Give detailed information about the job or program you are applying for. This includes logistical information like who to address the letter to and the letter due date. 

6. Send a thank-you letter

A little bit of gratitude can go a long way. Express your appreciation by sending a thank-you letter or email to the person writing a letter of recommendation for you.

Another great way to show your appreciation for their act of kindness is to keep the writer of the letter updated. Keep them in the loop about your future endeavors so they know the impact their letter made.

Who to ask for a letter of recommendation

Deciding who to ask for a letter of recommendation is a crucial part of the process. 

They need to be someone who knows you well. They also need to have neutral judgment and have some professional gravitas in your field. 

You might be tempted to ask someone who simply holds a lot of power. But it is more important that you pick someone who has personal experience with you as an individual.

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The intention for your letter of recommendation is also a determining factor when choosing who to ask. 

Academic letters would be best written by a teacher or lecturer. Professional or career-based letters are best left to trustworthy colleagues, supervisors, or managers. 

Start to narrow your list of potential candidates down until you are left with just two or three. Then, you can ask those around you for objective guidance about who would be best suited for the task.

What is the fastest way to ask for a letter of recommendation?

If you are between jobs or competing with others for a certain position, you might feel stressed and pressed for time. 

If you work or study in the same property as them, making a scheduled appointment and asking them in person would be the fastest way. 

If that isn’t possible, asking via email is the quickest, most efficient way to reach them. You could also call them to request the letter, then follow up with the details in an email.

How to ask for a letter of recommendation via email

Requesting a recommendation letter via email is different from asking in person because of the lack of eye contact and human interaction. You will need to be even more clear and deliberate about your request. 

If you are wondering how to ask for a letter of recommendation via email, we’ve got you covered. 

Here are some top tips for compiling a solid recommendation letter request via email:

  • Use a concise subject line. You want the recipient to know exactly what to expect from your email. Avoid emojis, excessive punctuation, and long-winded statements.
  • Make them aware of who you are. Advocate for yourself by announcing who you are clearly and confidently at the beginning of the email. If there’s a chance they don’t remember you from previous interactions, make sure to remind them of your connection.
  • Be friendly but direct. This is a professional request for something that could drastically alter the trajectory of your career path. Be straightforward without compromising on affability.

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  • Make it as easy as possible for them. You can show your respect for their time and energy by doing everything you can to make their job easy. Don’t leave the research up to them. For example, you could share your personal vision statement with them so they are aware of what you want to do and why.
  • Attach the necessary information. The last thing you want is to appear disorganized. Triple-check that all of the necessary PDFs and documents are attached before hitting send. This includes documents like your resume and the job description of the position you are applying for.
  • Be honest about your timeline. Ensure the person you ask knows the application deadline and when you hope to submit the letter. Even if you’ve left it to the last minute, it’s best to be honest. This way, they can politely decline if they aren’t comfortable writing the letter in time.

Tips for requesting a letter of recommendation

Asking someone for a letter of recommendation can be daunting because so much of your future relies on it. But the fact that you are here and doing the research is already an indication that you are taking it seriously.

Use this list of tips to help you feel more prepared.

  • Don’t leave it to the last minute. A slap-dash request rarely conveys competence. Manage your time efficiently so that the letter writer has plenty of time to write a good recommendation.
  • Preferably ask in person. When possible, request a letter of recommendation in person. This may allow for better communication through body language.
  • Show appreciation. It is important to acknowledge that they are doing you a favor.

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  • Use a bit of flattery. There is nothing wrong with using a touch of flattery to amplify your chances of success.
  • If they aren’t comfortable, ask someone else. If they are too busy or simply don’t want to assist, be understanding and move on to the next person on your list.
  • Be graceful if they decline. Even though it can be disappointing, try to be accepting and understanding about a declined request.
  • Be clear about what you need. Avoid a disappointing letter of recommendation by clearly stating what you would like the letter to include.

Letter of recommendation request samples

Below are two different examples for recommendation letter requests. Let’s first take a look at a professional example:

Dear Mr. Collier,

I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation in support of my application for Head Manager at JHI Associates. The hiring manager has asked me to provide a letter of recommendation from someone who knows me on a professional level and can speak to my skills and achievements.

Since we have worked together for several years, I believe you can provide some insight into my qualifications as an ideal managerial candidate. I learned a lot from you while working at Collier Caller Services. With this in mind, I think you would be a great person to vouch for my interpersonal and decision-making skills.

Please let me know if you are comfortable endorsing my candidacy for a managerial role. Should you be willing, I can provide you with all the necessary information to help you write your recommendation. 

I have attached my resume to bring you up to date with my experience and professional accomplishments.

Thank you in advance,

Mary Jackson

 

Now, let’s take a look at an academic example.

 

Dear Professor Jameson,

I thoroughly enjoyed your Mathematics class last semester, and I learned so much. In fact, it confirmed my belief that pursuing a career in accounting is the right choice. I’m hoping that you feel you got to know me and my academic abilities during the semester because I’d like to ask you to write a recommendation letter.

I’m working toward a scholarship that’s awarded by ACME Accounting. I have enclosed my cover letter to the scholarship committee and a copy of my application. I’ve also included a summary sheet of my achievements in your class and those outside the classroom to refresh your memory.

Could you please let me know if you are comfortable endorsing me for this scholarship? If need be, I would be more than happy to answer any questions or provide additional information that would help you write your recommendation.

Thank you for all your support and for taking the time to review my request.

Sincerely,

Jenna Smith

Some of the most important parts of a recommendation letter request include the following elements:

  • Formal greeting: Dear Name
  • Statement of intent: I would like you to write me a letter of recommendation
  • Offering specific details: It is for X Program or X Employment Position at X University/Business
  • Purpose of letter: It will allow me to graduate/find employment
  • Reason why you are asking them: We have X years of working experience together
  • Affirmation of ambition: I am confident in my ability to reach this goal
  • Gratitude: Thank you for your time
  • Signature: Your Name

Drafting a request for a letter of recommendation may feel a little overwhelming. But keep in mind that it is a common practice in professional settings.

Ready to ask for a letter of recommendation?

Despite its ability to influence your career path, knowing how to ask for a letter of recommendation is not something everyone is taught. It’s normal to feel awkward about asking for a recommendation letter, especially if it’s from a boss if you are leaving your job.

However, it’s important to remember that most people are more than willing to oblige if you ask nicely, especially if you have a good relationship with them.

A strong letter of recommendation can help you stand out from other applicants during a job search. It can also reinforce your social capital in the corporate or academic world and increase your confidence in yourself.

All of these things are important for professional development.

If you’d like to take your career and individual transformation to the next level, BetterUp can help. Get in touch with us today to find the right expert coach for you.

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Published February 23, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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