Do you have an opportunity to attend an academic program or land the job of your dreams?
As part of preparing for an interview, you might need to send along letters of recommendation. They can help you stand out from other applicants by showcasing your skills, work ethic, and other positive qualities. Here's a closer look at how to ask for a letter of recommendation, when they're necessary, and everything else you need to know.
What is a Letter of Recommendation and When Do You Need One?
A letter of recommendation is a personalized letter written on behalf of someone else. It expresses positive qualities about the subject, usually qualities directly related to the purpose of the letter.
They're typically used when the subject of the letter is applying to any of the following:
- A new job
- Promotion within a company
- An education program, such as college or a specific academic program with a college
In some cases, letters are requested by the organization. For example, many academic institutions require letters of recommendation. As far as businesses go, letters of recommendation are less common than they used to be, but including one can help you stand out from the crowd.
(Note: The word "letter" is mainly a holdover from an earlier time. Many letters of recommendation today are emails.)
Who Should You Ask for a Recommendation from?
In most situations, the author of the reference letter should have a clear, direct connection to the subject. For instance, a high school student applying to college will include letters from former teachers. A person applying for a job will include letters from former managers or colleagues.
Another type of recommendation letter might act more as a general character reference. For example, you might include a letter from a pastor or civic leader. (Maybe you're lucky enough to be family friends with your local member of Congress or someone else prominent.)
Avoid letters written by close family or friends. Most people will assume such letters are heavily biased in your favor. Your best friend from third grade might truly think you're great, but potential employers won't find their recommendation credible.
What Should You Provide to the Person Writing the Recommendation?
Make the process as easy as possible by providing everything they need to write the letter. Include the following:
- Purpose – What do you need in this letter? What organization are you trying to join, and what is its relevance to the letter writer?
- Your Current Resume or Curriculum Vitae – It provides the letter writer with a quick reference point for your skillset and work history. Typically, a resume is used when applying for a job while a CV is for academic purposes. Learn more about CV's here.
- Additional Qualification – Write up a separate summary of qualifications directly related to what you're applying for. A separate summary makes it easy for the letter writer to highlight what you think is important to include.
- Due Date – Remind the person when you need the letter. If they have to send it directly to the organization, provide the appropriate contact info.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
First, reach out informally with a phone call or email. Act polite, friendly, and straightforward. Also, make it clear that the person is under no obligation to write you a letter.
Ask the person about the letter at least two weeks before you need it – although two months is the preferred option when possible.
A Template for Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
Here's how to ask for a letter of recommendation:
Hello Mr/Ms/Dr [Recipient],
I hope you are well! I am currently applying [to an organization / for a position at a company]. The application requires a letter of recommendation. I would appreciate it if you could write one on my behalf detailing my skills, achievements, and abilities in [relevant subject].
I greatly enjoyed [taking your class / working with you at company name]. With that in mind, I believe you're uniquely qualified to discuss my [relevant skills]. I'm currently applying for [position / academic program] and believe my abilities in [key areas] would increase my chances of [getting hired/accepted].
Attached is my current resume and a brief summary of relevant skills. The deadline for the letter is [date]. Please let me know soon if you feel comfortable writing a letter for me. If you're unable to write the letter, that is no problem at all, and I thank you for your time.
Frequently Asked Questions When it Comes to Reference Letters
Here are quick answers to common questions about how to ask for a letter of recommendation and more.
1. Is It OK to Send a Recommendation Over Email?
It depends. Some organizations require a physical letter sealed in an envelope, while others are fine with an email. Check the details of the application.
In many cases, a letter sent via email will need to be from a verifiable, public email address, such as a work address.
2. Should the Recommendation Be Sent Directly to Me?
Typically, both physical and digital letters of recommendation are sent directly to the organization. If they're sent to you, they're sent in a sealed envelope, which you can then include unopened in an application packet.
Sending the letter without letting the subject view it first helps establish its authenticity and honesty. It also shows that the subject trusts what the author has to say about them.
3. Should a Recommendation Letter Have a Certain Format?
As long as the recommendation letter conveys the necessary information in a clear and professional way, it doesn't need to follow any strict format.
4. Is it Considered Rude to Ask for a Recommendation Letter?
Not at all. As long as you ask respectfully, you'll likely find many people are flattered to be asked, as it signals they're respected in their field. However, you should only ask folks with whom you have a positive relationship.
5. How Many Letters of Recommendation Should I Ask for?
The number depends on what you're applying to, so check the regulations carefully. As a general rule, most academic programs require three letters of recommendation. Companies are more flexible.
Never send more letters than an organization asks for. It creates needless work for everyone involved (and can accidentally show you don't pay attention to the details).