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How can you ask for a letter of recommendation

How can you ask for a letter of recommendation

Artwork by: Olga Aleksandrova

  • Why might a letter of recommendation be helpful?
  • 1. Credibility
  • 2. Differentiation
  • 3. Insight 
  • Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation?
  • 1.  Boss
  • 2. Client
  • 3. Public figure
  • 4. Professor
  • How do you politely ask for a letter of recommendation?
  • What to say in the initial conversation
  • What to say in the formal request
  • Key takeaways

Trying to gain a competitive edge? A letter of recommendation could mean the difference between your next opportunity and rejection. This article covers the ins and outs of how to ask for a recommendation letter.

As you embark on the next chapter of your professional journey, you may need to ask for a letter of recommendation. If you’ve never asked for one before, it may feel intimidating. Don’t worry. Those feelings are normal. Knowing how to ask for a recommendation letter involves finesse and a balance of etiquette, professionalism, and genuine connection.

In this guide, we’ll cover: 

  • Why a letter of recommendation is helpful

  • Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation

  • How to ask for a recommendation letter

  • Recommendation letter request sample 

Why might a letter of recommendation be helpful?

If you’re in the running for a new opportunity, a strong letter of recommendation may be the edge you need to tip the scales in your favor. Here are three ways you may benefit: 

1. Credibility

Recommendation letters provide an external validation of your skills, qualifications, and professional or academic qualities. Hearing positive feedback from someone who has worked closely with you can strengthen your credibility. 

2. Differentiation

In competitive situations, a well-crafted recommendation letter can set you apart from other candidates. It offers a more nuanced and personalized perspective, helping you stand out in the crowd.

3. Insight 

A letter of recommendation often delves into your work ethic, character, and interpersonal skills. This personal touch can give prospective employers or academic institutions a deeper understanding of who you are beyond your resume or transcripts.

Who should I ask for a letter of recommendation?

The first step in acquiring a letter of recommendation is figuring out whom to ask. Brainstorm a list of the strongest possible options in your professional world. Usually, these are folks you interact with often or people you’ve had success with on projects. It’s also important to have back-up options, in case someone says no. 

Here are four types you can ask:

1.  Boss

Your boss is accountable for your performance. They know firsthand what impact your work has had on the company’s performance. Your boss should also be able to describe your quantifiable achievements, as well as the soft skills they’ve seen you demonstrate. This makes them ideal for writing letters of recommendation. 

2. Client

If you work in a client-facing industry, consider asking one of your customers 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. Select a client you have a long-standing relationship with or one who you’ve worked closely with. 

3. Public figure

If, and only if, you have a natural connection and professional relationship with a public figure, reach out to them. Choose someone you’ve worked with in some capacity, a person well respected in your professional field. Politicians, athletes, entertainers, CEOs are all options, but make sure they are familiar with your work.

4. Professor

If you’re an entry level professional looking for an internship or first full-time job, a recommendation letter from a professor can carry weight due to their position and experience. Professors often have a deep understanding of your academic abilities and can attest to your work ethic and contributions to class discussions or projects.

How do you politely ask for a letter of recommendation?

Requesting a letter of recommendation is personal. Asking someone to take time to recommend you for a job might feel awkward. But, it doesn’t have to be. Below are a few tips and tricks so you know how to ask for a  recommendation letter: 

What to say in the initial conversation

Prepare your request ahead of time and explain what it is you’re applying for and why you’re asking this person to recommend you. Asking face-to-face is best. You can also do it by video call or phone. During that initial conversation, reiterate how much you enjoyed working with them. Let them know that you value their opinion.

What to say in the formal request

Once they’ve said yes, follow up the conversation with a formal request email. Be as detailed as possible and provide a list of some factors they could include in their letter to make it easy for them. This is particularly helpful if you haven’t interacted with them for a while.

You will want to include details about how and when the letter should be submitted and information on the position or role you’re applying for. An updated resume is essential, and if requested, a sample letter. Finally, remind them of key accomplishments achieved during your time together.

Below is an example of what to write in an email when sending a letter of recommendation request:

Copyable example

Subject: Request for Letter of Recommendation

Dear [Contact’s Name],

I trust this message finds you well. I had the privilege of working under your leadership at [Company Name] as [Your Position] from [Start Date] to [End Date]. I am reaching out to request your support in writing a letter of recommendation for [purpose – job application, graduate program, etc.]. 

Reflecting on my time at [Company Name], I greatly appreciate the valuable experiences and mentorship I gained under your guidance. Your insights into [specific aspects of your work] significantly contributed to my professional development, and I believe your endorsement would carry considerable weight in support of my application.

If you are open to writing a letter of recommendation on my behalf, I am happy to provide any additional details you may need. The deadline for submission is [Date], and I kindly request that you send the letter directly to [email or address where the letter should be sent].

I understand your time is valuable, and I sincerely appreciate your consideration of this request. Please let me know if there is any other information required or specific procedures you would like me to follow.

Thank you for your time and support. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with you, and I look forward to the possibility of collaborating on this matter.

Best regards, [Your Full Name]

 Need help with navigating your job search? Check out our job search services for support with enhancing your job search efforts. 

Key takeaways

  1. A strong letter of recommendation is crucial for admissions or job opportunities, providing external validation, differentiation, and insight into character.

  2. Approach bosses, clients, well-known figures, or professors based on strong relationships and relevance to your application.

  3. Provide detailed information in the formal request email, respecting their time and offering necessary details.

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