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  1. Career Advice
  2. Career development
  3. How can you ask for a letter of recommendation
How can you ask for a letter of recommendation

Robert Lyons

How can you ask for a letter of recommendation

Artwork by: Olga Aleksandrova

  • Why might a letter of recommendation be helpful?
  • Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation?
  • Do I make the request in-person or via email? 
  • Send a formal letter of recommendation request.
  • What should be included in a letter of recommendation? 
  • How far in advance should I ask for a letter of recommendation?
  • Key takeaways

This blog covers how to ask for a Letter of Recommendation and offers a deep dive into the process, contents, and timeline associated with making such a request.

We’re all familiar with letters of recommendation being a part of applications for school, scholarships, and training programs. But, surprisingly, they can be an important piece of a successful professional application as well. 

Particularly in cases where a job-seeker has little work experience or a candidate applying for an executive position where character means more than experience, a letter of recommendation can make all the difference.

In this case, however, asking someone to write a recommendation letter for you might be a bit intimidating. Especially if the person you’re asking is extremely busy or the relationship isn’t as clear as it could be, asking someone to take time to recommend you for a job might feel awkward. But it doesn’t have to be. We’ll cover a few tips and tricks to make asking for a letter of recommendation straightforward.

In this blog, we’ll cover

  • Why a letter of recommendation is helpful 

  • Who to ask for a recommendation letter

  • Key elements of a formal request

  • How far in advance to ask for the letter

Why might a letter of recommendation be helpful?

You might wonder, is it even common for recruiters to request recommendation letters for job applications. In truth, it is pretty rare that you’ll be asked for one. It’s much more likely that you’ll be asked for references. Exceptions are, if it’s an entry-level position or a C-suite level position, where a certain level of experience is assumed. Sometimes in academic circles they might be requested as well. 

So should you have these letters of recommendation in your back pocket anyway? Absolutely. 

For one, just because a recruiter doesn’t demand them doesn’t mean you can’t use them to separate yourself from the other applicants. You can have them at the ready and offer them to the recruiter as the process continues. 

With a recommendation letter, hiring managers can gain a sense of your skills functioning in real life if they can’t speak directly with your former supervisors.  

Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

The first step in acquiring a letter of recommendation is, of course, figuring out whom to ask. Take a moment to brainstorm a list of the strongest possible options in your professional world. Usually these are folks you interact with often or people with whom you’ve had success with on projects. Feel free to really branch out with this brainstorming list, though. You might discover surprising options. It’s also important to have back-up options, in case someone says no.

Asking your boss

Your boss is accountable for your performance. They’ve seen your talents in action and know first-hand what impact your work has had on the company’s performance. Your boss should also be able to describe the soft skills they’ve seen you demonstrate. This makes them ideal for writing letters of recommendation. 

Expert Tip

Don’t wait ‘til you need it.

When you leave a job - and you had a good relationship with your boss - go ahead and ask for a general letter of recommendation. This way your time with them is still fresh in their mind and you have that letter for future use.

Asking a client 

If you work in a client-facing industry, consider asking one of your customers for a recommendation. If you’ve been able to give exceptional service or successfully completed projects with a client, that client will be able to attest to your industry knowledge and abilities. 

A satisfied client can give specific details on your experience together and show the value you’ve provided them on behalf of the company. What better endorsement is there?

To ensure the letter has the most resonance, be sure to select a client with whom you have a long-standing relationship or with whom you’ve worked closely.

Asking a well-known private or public figure

If, and only if, you have a natural connection and professional relationship with a public figure, think about reaching out to them. The most important aspects to remember, is that they are well respected in your professional field and you’ve worked with them in some capacity. Politicians, athletes, entertainers, CEOs are all options, but they have to know your specific work skills. 



Ask for a letter of recommendation from a highly regarded public or private figure you know very well or have worked with closely on a professional level. 

Ask for a letter of recommendation from a highly regarded public figure you do not know well or have limited professional history.

Do I make the request in-person or via email? 

Requesting a letter of recommendation is incredibly personal. You are basically asking someone to validate your skills and achievements. Asking them face-to-face is best, barring that try to at least do it by phone or remote meeting. Sure, you’re asking for a favor, but the people who care about you will want you to succeed. 

Preparing your request ahead of time and explaining what it is you’re applying for and why you’re asking this person to recommend you.

Follow up the conversation with a formal request email. 

Send a formal letter of recommendation request.

Once they’ve said yes, send an email formally requesting the letter of recommendation. The main focus here is to make it easy for them to write the letter

What does that mean? In short, in your request, list all of the important details they need to easily write a successful letter:

  • Details about how and when the letter should be submitted

  • Key elements that need to be included in the letter

  • Information on the position or role you’re applying for

  • An updated resume or brag sheet 

  • What you are doing now

  • A sample letter (if requested)

Expert Tip

Include a brag sheet 

When sending your formal request, help the person writing the letter by giving them positive things they can highlight about you. Do this by including either your resume or a so-called brag sheet.

This is a concise list that highlights your achievements, qualifications, and best characteristics. This will allow them to pull career highlights and stats with ease.

Key accomplishments with the company or client, including metrics

Examples of your soft skills in action

Additional training you sought out

Projects you initiated at work

Extra-curriculars or volunteer work they can speak to if they demonstrate a characteristic

Work experience

A short blurb about your goals for the position you’re applying for

What should be included in a letter of recommendation? 

To make the most impact, a solid letter of recommendation should have these 3 key elements: your relationship, personal traits, and specific achievements. Help your letter writer by reminding them of these elements.

Relationship between the parties

“I was with Acme Corp for 9 years. You were my supervisor for the last 7, from 2010-2017”

Personal Characteristics  

“As my supervisor, one of the best compliments you ever gave me was on my ability to leverage his analytical mindset to solve complex problems. In my reviews, you described me as well-organized, dependable, and flexible in even the most challenging circumstances.”

Specific business achievements

“During my time in our department, I was able to secure 17 new clients, increase sales by, and raise revenue by 75%.”

In the letter itself, it’s best to outline three to five specific achievements. This will give enough info to give an impression of the applicant, without overwhelming the reader.

How far in advance should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

Asking someone to write a letter of recommendation is a significant ask, because you are asking them to dedicate a piece of their time to helping you with your future. So make sure they have a comfortable amount of time to write it at their convenience. At minimum it should be two weeks out, but more appropriately four weeks. That said, more than eight weeks might be too far, because it risks them forgetting about the request. 

Expert Tip

Letter of recommendation request checklist:

Ask early

Ask nicely

Use a little flattery

Provide all necessary information

Give them a way out

Have back-up options

Key takeaways

  1. Ask for a Letter of Recommendation from a supervisor, client, or highly respected individual.

  2. Ensure the letter outlines professional or personal connection, achievements, and soft skills. 

  3. Allow two to six weeks lead time to ensure the other party has ample time to draft

Robert Lyons

Robert Lyons is a freelance writer.  He has covered technology, travel, arts, the entertainment industry, and career development. Originally from the Midwest, he has lived in L.A. and Berlin but now is based in New York.

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