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If you’re applying for a job or admission to a university, you’ll most likely face the usual hoops of filling out an application, answering some questions, and maybe completing an interview.

However, another item that many schools and employers frequently request is a letter of recommendation. This letter is ideally written by someone of authority in your life, such as a former employer, teacher, or coach.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to cross your fingers and hope a letter full of praise magically appears in your inbox—you’ll have to ask for one! But we’ve got you covered with this complete guide to getting a recommendation letter, including who, when, and how to ask.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Follow these 6 steps to get a shining letter of recommendation that will help you stand out on job or college applications.

1. List 3–5 people best suited to write your letter of recommendation.

This first step to asking for a letter of recommendation is the one that requires the most thought. You’ll need to think of several people who are best-suited to write your recommendation letter.

The person you approach for a letter of recommendation should be someone who:

  • You’ve kept in touch with
  • Has worked closely with you in a relevant capacity
  • Can honestly vouch for your character and qualities as an employee, student, etc.

That being said, here are some of the most common sources of recommendation letters:

  • Employers: Former employers are a great source if you’re applying for a new position, assuming you’re on good terms. However, you might also ask a current or former employer for a recommendation letter if you’re a student applying to a college or for a scholarship, as they should be able to vouch for your work ethic and character.
  • Teachers or Professors: If there’s a teacher you’ve developed a bond with or a class where you really shine, you may consider asking that instructor for a recommendation. This could be for colleges, jobs, or even scholarships. However, make sure it’s a class you’re active in. Don’t ask for a letter if you sit in the back, hardly speak, and the teacher barely knows your name.
teacher letter of recommendation image
Image by Jerry Kimbrell from Pixabay
  • Guidance Counselors: If you regularly consult your high school or university guidance counselor, they might be able to offer insight to your growth, improvement, and dedication as a student.
  • Coaches: Sports coaches, band instructors, and other leaders of extracurricular activities can attest to who you are outside of academics, providing a well-rounded picture to complement your grades and other stats for college (or job) applications.
  • Colleagues: Colleagues can also be good sources for recommendation letters, particularly managers, or coworkers who have more years of experience than you. They can attest to your work habits, skills, and abilities.

2. Reach out to those individuals to catch up.

Once you’ve identified several viable sources for your letter(s) of recommendation, make time to call them or meet up for a coffee, especially if you haven’t seen them in a while.

There are several reasons you should do this. First, if you haven’t talked in several months or years, you should make an effort to catch up, so you’re not suddenly resurfacing just to ask for a favor.

Don’t make the meeting or chat all about you—take this time to check in with this person, see how they’re doing, and find out what’s new with them.

However, you can use this as an opportunity to update them on your goals and recent achievements, and if you’d like, even ask them about the possibility of writing your letter of recommendation (see step 3, below).

3. Discuss the reason for the recommendation.

Whether you choose to bring up the letter of recommendation at your meeting or follow up with an email later, you should discuss the reason for the recommendation and explain why you’ve chosen to ask them.

This conversation will help ensure that they’ll be available to write your letter and get it to you on time. Be sure to discuss important information such as what the recommendation is for, an overview of what should be included, and a deadline.

4. Provide helpful materials, like your updated resume.

resume for a recommendation letter
Photo by Lukas from Pexels

Once they’ve agreed to write your letter of recommendation, provide as much helpful information as you can.

This can include:

  • Your up-to-date resume
  • A description of your current role
  • A description of the role you’re seeking
  • A list of relevant qualifications or skills
  • Requested due date for the letter

Also clarify any specific instructions issued to you by the organization requesting your letter (for example, if the letter needs to be sealed, mailed directly by the writer, etc.).

5. Allow adequate time.

Remember that while many people are honored to be asked for a letter of recommendation, you’re still asking them for a favor—one that takes time and considerable thought to complete.

As such, you should be sure to allow adequate time for them to complete your letter. Do not approach your professor at 4 p.m. asking for a recommendation letter that needs to be mailed the next day!

You should allow your reference plenty of time to reflect on their experience with you and write a thoughtful letter. Around 2 weeks is a good rule of thumb, but if you already know who you want to ask, you should approach them as soon as possible.

6. Send a thank-you letter.

Finally, send a thank-you note or email to each individual who wrote you a letter of recommendation. This shows that you appreciate their support, time, and efforts to help you with your goals.

Then, be sure to keep in touch! Don’t disappear after you’ve gotten your letter. Update them if you get that job or acceptance letter—they’ll be happy to know that their efforts helped you!

Is It OK to Ask Your Boss for a Letter of Recommendation?

asking a boss for a recommendation letter image
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

It’s absolutely ok (and common) to ask your boss for a letter of recommendation, as long as you’re confident that you’re actually performing well at your job and have a good relationship with your boss.

If you’ve only been on the job for a few weeks, you probably shouldn’t ask your boss, since they won’t know you well enough yet to to write anything substantial in your letter.

Also, the answer to this question may depend on who you consider your “boss.” If you work in a very large department and don’t interact regularly with the Director/CEO/Head Manager, then you might want to ask a lower-ranking supervisor or manager whom you work with more closely instead.

Who Should You Not Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

It’s pretty rare that someone you’ve asked will write you an outright bad letter of recommendation (or letter of criticism).

If the person you’ve asked doesn’t feel comfortable or qualified to write your letter, they should tell you that up front, and most likely they’ll suggest someone else you might ask.

However, it is possible that the letter can come out mediocre or too general. This usually happens when the person writing the letter doesn’t know the subject closely enough.

This is why you should avoid asking for letters of recommendation from people you haven’t worked with long enough, professors whose classes you don’t actively participate in, or supervisors who haven’t really seen you shine on the job yet.

In addition, you generally shouldn’t ask friends or family members for recommendation letters. While they might be able to attest to your character in a way no one else can, but they’re also likely to be heavily biased and unable to offer reliable professional insight.

Letter of Recommendation Request Sample

Below is a sample of a request for a letter of recommendation, which you can also use as a template for your own request:

Dear [Recipient’s Name],

I hope this message finds you well!

I’m currently in the process of applying for [position/school/scholarship/etc.]. One requirement for the application is a letter of recommendation from someone who can effectively describe my work habits, skills, and achievements.

I really enjoyed [working/studying] with you at [company/school]—particularly when we were able to collaborate on [project]. With that in mind, I thought you’d be a great person to vouch for my expertise in [key skill area] and my ability to [impressive result].

I know you’re busy, so I’ve attached some additional information, including my updated resume, that might help you. The deadline for submitting the letter is [date]. Would you be comfortable writing a letter of this nature for me?

Let’s catch up over coffee soon!


[Your Name]

You can download our letter of recommendation request template to make writing your request even easier.

Asking for Recommendation Letters

Asking for a letter of recommendation might feel awkward or intimidating at times, but if you choose the right person, you’d be surprised at how willing they’ll be to help you!

By choosing someone you’ve worked with closely and who can attest to your abilities, you’ll be able to offer employers, universities, and other organizations some extra insight to what makes you the perfect candidate.

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!


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