How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Tina J. Harris 

The first step in asking for a letter of recommendation is to choose the right person to write it. Consider individuals who know you well and can speak to your skills, accomplishments, and character. This could be a teacher, professor, employer, mentor, or supervisor who has worked closely with you and can provide meaningful insights into your abilities and achievements. Choose someone who can offer a positive and insightful perspective on your qualifications and potential.

Timing Is Key

Once you’ve identified potential recommenders, it’s essential to provide them with ample notice before making your request. Keep in mind that writing a thoughtful and personalized letter of recommendation takes time and effort, so be considerate of their schedule and workload. Ideally, you should reach out to your recommender at least several weeks in advance of your application deadline to give them enough time to write and submit the letter.

Building Rapport

When asking for a letter of recommendation, it’s important to make a personal connection with your recommender and express genuine appreciation for their support. Schedule a meeting or phone call to discuss your request in person, if possible, or send a thoughtful email outlining your reasons for seeking their recommendation. Take the time to remind them of your past accomplishments and experiences together, emphasizing why you believe they would be the perfect person to write your recommendation.

Articulating Your Needs

When making your request, be clear and specific about what you’re asking for and why. Provide your recommender with detailed information about the position or program you’re applying to, including any specific requirements or guidelines for the letter of recommendation. Offer insights into your goals, aspirations, and relevant experiences, highlighting the qualities and achievements you would like them to emphasize in their letter.

Providing Context and Background

To help your recommender write a strong and personalized letter of recommendation, offer supporting materials that provide context and background information about your accomplishments and experiences. This could include your resume, transcripts, work samples, or a list of key projects and achievements. By providing these materials, you make it easier for your recommender to tailor their letter to your specific strengths and qualifications.

Expressing Appreciation

After making your request, be sure to follow up with a heartfelt expression of gratitude for your recommender’s willingness to support you. Whether it’s a handwritten thank-you note, a small token of appreciation, or a sincere email expressing your thanks, taking the time to acknowledge their effort and support can go a long way. Let them know how much their recommendation means to you and how grateful you are for their support.

Understanding Boundaries

Finally, it’s essential to respect your recommender’s decision, whether they agree to write the letter or not. Keep in mind that not everyone may feel comfortable or able to provide a recommendation, and that’s okay. If your recommender declines your request, graciously thank them for their consideration and understanding. Remember that there are plenty of other potential recommenders who may be willing to support you, so don’t be discouraged if one person is unable to fulfill your request.

Navigating the Path to Recommendation

Asking for a letter of recommendation can feel daunting, but with the right approach and preparation, it can also be a rewarding and affirming experience. By choosing the right recommender, providing ample notice, making a personal connection, being clear and specific, offering supporting materials, following up with gratitude, and respecting their decision, you can navigate the request process with confidence and professionalism. So, don’t hesitate to reach out to potential recommenders and start the conversation about your future opportunities.

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