HOW TO ASK FOR A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION

Introduction

A great letter of recommendation sets you apart from other applicants. While letters of recommendation are rarely asked for outright, including one in your application boosts your visibility and credibility. But to ask for a letter of recommendation can be daunting. Who do you ask? What if they say no?

If you do include a letter, most employers will be interested in a recommendation from a former employer. If you’re wondering how to ask for a recommendation from an employer, or from anyone else who can speak to your work, take a look at these tips below.

Steps to Securing a Great Letter of Recommendation

  1. Choose Someone Who Knows You Very Well

Your letter should come from someone who can speak in-depth to your skills and experience. Choose someone who knows and values your work – better yet if they have a history of singing your praises.

  1. But Not Someone on Your Reference List

It can be a lot to ask someone to be on-call as a reference and to write a letter for you. Keep them separate.

  1. Approach Them Early

A good rule of thumb is at least a month (if not two) in advance. The more notice you give, the less pressure your potential recommender will feel, and they’ll be more inclined to help you.

  1. Use a Little Flattery

Show them warmth and respect in your email, or when you meet with them in person.

It never hurts to remind them how much you appreciate them before you ask them to help you.

  1. Provide Them with Talking Points

Don’t just ask them to write a letter and then leave them to their own devices. You want to make sure that you end up with a letter that will actually help you. Give your recommender bullet points to help them know what to include in the letter.

  1. Be Prepared to Help Them Write the Letter

Sometimes you’ll need to do more than provide talking points. You may need to look over outlines, send emails back and forth discussing parts to include or eliminate, and you may even have to draft portions of the letter yourself. Be flexible and generous with your time – they are helping you out, after all!

  1. Make Sure They Know How to Submit the Letter

In almost all cases, the recommender will have to submit their sealed letter on their own. Ensure that they have every instruction they need to do this. The last thing you want is to go through the entire process and then have the letter sent to the wrong place or sent in the wrong way. Be meticulous about following instructions.

  1. Express Gratitude

Don’t just disappear after you get the letter from a recommender. Send them a card, or a gift of some kind to show how much you value their time and contribution. This will go a long way to strengthen the relationship.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation Via Email

Keep it Simple

No need to go into a bunch of details in the initial letter. This is about getting them to say “yes.” In your email, approach them with the reason for your email, why you’re choosing to ask them to write the letter for you, and why you need the letter.

Let them know the outline of what will be required of them, but not so much information that they get overwhelmed. You want to sell them on the idea of writing the letter, which means shorter, simpler and more to the point will always be your best bet.

Make Sure the Tone Matches the Relationship

Who is your potential recommender to you? Are they an old employer? The head of an organization you volunteer for? How well do you know them? How do you speak to each other in person? Is it more formal or more casual? Answer these questions for yourself and tailor the tone of your email to match the relationship.

Attach All Necessary Documents

If you’re not super close with the person you’re asking, include your CV, resume, and other appropriate materials to remind your potential recommender of the work you did with or for them. Help them understand why they are the perfect person to write a letter for you.

Follow Up

If you don’t hear anything back within a week, send another email referencing the first email. If you still don’t receive anything, you can follow up one more time, but unless you know the person well, it’s best to move on after two follow-ups.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation in Person 

  1. Make an Appointment

Don’t drop in unannounced. Call or email to schedule an appointment. Better yet – invite your potential recommender out for coffee or lunch.

  1. Show Interest in Them

If you’ve chosen to ask the right person, odds are you’ll have something to talk about other than the letter of recommendation. Have a real conversation with them. Your reason for scheduling the meeting will arise naturally and you’ll be able to make the ask. If you go straight after the letter, you run the risk of looking self-serving.

  1. Be Clear About Your Needs

When you do go to ask, be direct and speak with clarity. Ask with humble confidence and share with them why you’re choosing to approach them over anyone else. Make sure they know exactly what will be expected of them.

  1. Follow Up

Hopefully, you’ve asked a powerful person with influence for your letter. If so, they’re probably very busy and may not remember everything you talked about. Email them to follow up on your discussion and continue to check in with them all along the way.

Make certain they have all the necessary documents and instructions. Don’t just expect that they’ll remember deadlines. That’s your job. This is your letter – you’re responsible to ensure that it gets done and sent in the proper way.

Want more information to help supercharge your career? Check out our other guides. Need a new job, but not sure where to start? Our online course “How to Find and Land a Job You Love” has all the information you need to snag your dream job.

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