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How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are a way for companies to get a better idea of who you are as a person, from people that have experience working with you.  It’s hard to ask other people for favors though, especially when there’s the added pressure of trying to get a job.


So how do you go about asking for a letter of recommendation?  Who do you ask, and what should be in it?  We’re here to break it down.


Ask Early

Everyone is busy, and you’re asking someone to take time out of their day to write about you.  Give the writer ample time to craft a letter for you, at least a month’s notice.  The last thing you want to do is force someone to write a letter for you quickly, this may reflect negatively in their review of you.  


You may find out on short notice that you need a letter of recommendation, which is why some people ask in advance.  If you’re about to go on summer vacation, now is a good time to ask a professor, when they’re less busy.  Don’t expect it until the start of school but at least this way you’ll have it before interview season starts in the fall.  This also works for bosses at work.  If you’re leaving a summer internship on good terms, ask your boss for a letter.  Give proper time, but this way you’ll have one before you need it.


Who to ask?

It’s important to ask someone that’s going to speak well of you, and can highlight what makes you right for the job.  Right after graduation, it’s common to have a professor write a letter of recommendation, and even more common while you’re still in school.  It isn’t enough to have just received a good grade in a class though.  This has to be a class that you actively participated in, went to office hours, and built a relationship with the professor.  Professors have to write these all of the time, it’s important that you stand out to them – so that you stand out to your potential employer.  Generic letters of recommendation stick out like a sore thumb, so it’s important that someone who knows you writes it.  


The same thought should go behind asking a boss for a letter.  Although it may seem more impressive to get a letter of recommendation from the CEO of the company you interned with last summer, it’s better to get help from a direct superior.  Someone that managed you directly and had a working relationship with you will have more examples of how you were as an employee. Someone that remembers you and can speak of your work ethic is much more valuable than a generic letter of recommendation.


Keep the letter confidential

This isn’t a requirement in all applications, but by not looking at your own letter of recommendation, you tell your potential employer you’re confident in yourself.  This lets the writer be more candid about their experiences with you, thus giving more weight to their recommendation.  This isn’t always possible anymore with applications moving online, but whenever you have the opportunity to submit a letter of recommendation in person, have the writer seal it.  Your confidence in the letter says a lot to your interviewer.


Help your recommender

If the job you’re applying for has specifications for what should be in the letter of recommendation, make sure that your recommender knows well in advance.  A position may call for examples of when you showed leadership, or how you demonstrated writing abilities.  Make sure that whoever helps you can attest to that, and assist them in any way you can.  Provide an envelope for the writer to seal the letter so that they don’t have to.  They’re doing you a favor, the least you can do is make it as easy for them as possible.   


Send a thank-you note

Once you have received your letter, send a handwritten thank you note to your recommender.  Personal notes are so uncommon these days, but show a real appreciation for what they’ve done for you.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a simple note like the following will suffice:


Dear (blank),

Thank you for taking the time to write a letter of recommendation.  Next time you’re in the area, please let me buy you lunch.


Your name


By offering lunch, you’re also maintaining your contact for future letters.  It’s also just a nice way to show gratitude.


Need more help applying for jobs?  Check out our article on interviews and resumes.


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