how to ask for a letter of recommendation.

  • interviews
  • September 01, 2020

Afraid to ask for a letter of recommendation? We don’t blame you one bit. In fact, asking for favors is always hard. And when the person on the other end of the line just so happens to be your professor, boss or colleague, there’s even more to get your heart rate up.

Fortunately, we’re here to help you avoid all that needless awkwardness. Just follow these easy tips. Plus, we’ll wind down by showing you an expertly crafted email template you can control, then tweak to serve your own professional interests.

asking for a letter of recommendation

Feeling like it’s time to pop the question to a former boss or colleague? That’s a good sign, for sure. Just follow these simple steps to get the much-deserved commendation you need without making it awkward — or even worse, potentially harming a valued relationship.

1. identify the right people

Ideally, your recommendation-letter authors should be people who know you best — we’re talking the most influential professors, greatest colleagues or most admirable managers you’ve ever had, period. Requesting a letter of recommendation from your former boss or colleagues, as distinguished from your current boss or colleagues, is the optimal approach (for what are, we hope, obvious reasons).

Keep in mind that you should only ask people who can confidently give you a glowing recommendation. In other words, if a manager let you go, it’s probably best to avoid asking him or her for a letter of recommendation unless you absolutely have no other choice.

2. be polite in your outreach

Far-reaching though your career goals may be, you need to ask others to support you in that quest without overreaching. Recognize that your former co-worker or boss has absolutely zero built-in obligation to help you out here. This is only a favor, so you need to ask nicely. Asking for a letter of recommendation over email is also best in that respect, because it gives people time to think it over. Under no circumstances should someone have to make a decision about writing you a recommendation letter on the spot.

3. give them time

You need to be proactive when asking for letters of recommendation — don’t wait until the very last minute, and then, when you suddenly need it, decide to pop the question. (For that matter, why let ticking timelines and escalating stress dictate anything about anyone’s decisions during your job-search process?) Rest assured, you’re in the driver’s seat if you can get proactive in this department. That’s why you should aim to give people at least a month of advance notice about the pending deadline for a recommendation letter.

That means asking at the start of your job search, not waiting until you have a potential offer on the line. Have your recommendations lined up ahead of time so you won’t be scrambling to avoid potentially losing an offer because you can’t get recommendations in time.

4. arm them!

In the meantime (since you’re waiting), you might as well at least offer to provide some pertinent supporting materials. After all, it’s easy for people to forget the special and enigmatic qualities that now make you so qualified for this new job. So if you’re reaching out to former (or even current) professors, why not provide them with a copy of your best essay or documentation about your best project from their class? If your target is a former boss, why not share the job description? They’re probably old pros at parsing business jargon anyway. And feel free to remind them of glowing reviews they’ve given you in the past or big projects you worked on or led.

All of this helps keep the relevant information about your best traits fresh and top of mind. Also, one pro tip: Your resume should be included in any documents you send to potential recommenders.

5. disclose, disclose, disclose

Privacy matters a lot these days, especially at work. Respect that of colleagues by clearly notifying them that you would like to use their names and contact information when sharing this letter of recommendation with prospective future employers, and asking their permission to do so. It’s a polite, respectful and forward-thinking gesture.

That’s it — five steps that are almost guaranteed to take you closer to the goal line. Think you can handle that? Well, we’re going to make it even easier for you. Below we’re sharing a simple template that you can customize when it’s time to ask for your own awesome letter of recommendation in the future.

how to ask for a letter of recommendation: email template

Compose your own variation on the following, making the necessary adjustments and those letters of recommendation should start stacking up in no time. Here’s how to ask for a letter of recommendation via email. Voila!

Dear [FIRST NAME],

It’s been too long! In any case, I hope and trust all is well with you.

I’m writing because I learned so much from you, and right now I’m this close to landing my dream job with [COMPANY NAME]. The culture, the people and the environment are all perfect for me because of [REASON X, Y and Z]. But I also know they’re still interviewing other candidates. Honestly, what I think would really put my candidacy over the top is a letter of recommendation from you.

Now, needless to say, I also understand if that isn’t something you can commit to doing right now. Don’t worry — there’s no rush. The deadline is [DATE]. Just let me know your thoughts whenever you have a chance, and again, it has been way too long. Let’s connect sometime soon.

Thanks in advance,

[YOUR NAME]

key takeaways

If you’ve been struggling in the how-do-I-ask-this department in the past, don’t. There’s no reason to sweat it. Writing tactful emails about sensitive stuff you really want is always a hard task, and we get it. But if you follow these simple instructions, you should be all set.

Just one final, final piece of advice: If you really want to go above and beyond, send your benefactor a thank you note, or even a gift, when it’s all said and done, no matter if you get the job or not. Plus, if you’re looking for even more actionable, hands-on career advice, check out all of our Career Resources for job seekers.