How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

April 17th, 2018 at 12:00pm
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Asking someone to write a letter of recommendation for you is no easy feat. You’re not only hoping they’ll say yes, but also that they’ll put together a glowing review of your work ethic and skills. If you’re nervous about your request, we don’t blame you, which is why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on everything you need to know to make it happen. From knowing who to ask to what to know before you make a request, here are eight easy steps on how to ask for a letter of recommendation from someone you admire.

Make Sure You’re Reaching Out to the Right Person

It’s important to think about what kind of letter you need based off the job you are applying for. Knowing this will help you decide who to ask for a letter of recommendation. Kristy Ruiz, Director of Student Life Center at North Carolina State University, says the writer of your recommendation letter “needs to be someone who knows you well, usually someone you have partnered with for a research or industry project, or student leadership.” You want someone who can speak towards your strengths and your experiences in a given area who aligns well with the position you’re seeking.

Harvard University Professor of English Amanda Claybaugh explains on her professional website that she wants to give all her students “strong letters”, but she may not be the right person to ask for one. She says, “If you’re applying for an internship or a job, you’ll need letters describing your character, your temperament, your work habits. If you’re applying to medical school or law school, you’ll need letters describing your writing. If you’re applying for graduate school or fellowships, you’ll need letters saying that you were, at the very least, the best student in a given class.”

Give Them Plenty of Time to Write It

It’s important to be organized and ask for letters of recommendation in a timely manner. For one, it allows your recommender more time to write thoughtful and useful material in your letter. But giving your recommender notice far enough in advance also shows you respect their time and care enough about what you’re applying for that you have planned ahead. “Usually ask as far in advance is known or at least 2-3 weeks before the letter is due,” Kristy Ruiz suggests. North Carolina State University’s Career Development Center also recommends sending the date the letter is due so your recommender can be aware of your timeline.

Provide As Much Information As You Can

Amanda suggests sending your recommender your résumé along with a description of the position you’re applying for. “I’d also like to know how you’re presenting yourself, so please send me a draft of your cover letter/application/statement of purpose, that way I can coordinate my description of you with your description of yourself.” Kristy explains it’s also helpful to understand how the opportunity aligns with the student’s goals when she’s writing her letters of recommendation.

Do The Extra Work So They Don’t Have To

If there is easy secretarial work that you can do ahead of time, by all means, do it. It might seem like an easy task for recommenders to do, but it helps move along the process. “If they will need to send the letter directly to the final destination, then provide the address,” says NC State University’s Career Development Center. “Most letter of recommendation forms, whether on paper or online, require the recommender to answer many little questions. Answering those questions takes time—a lot of time, actually, since I write for many students and each student ends up applying for many things. I’d prefer to spend that time perfecting my letters, so I’d appreciate it if you filled in as many of the blanks as you can,” Amanda explains. So anything basic like contact information, titles or addresses should be filled out by you and not your recommender.

Waive Your Right to Read It

As much as you may want to know what your professor or boss wrote, it’s important to know you won’t necessarily get the chance to read the letter before they send it. “Letters aren’t taken seriously if they’re not confidential. And you can trust that I won’t agree to write a letter for you unless I can write a strong one,” Amanda states. Asking someone to see the letter they wrote can indicate that you don’t trust them to write you a good recommendation, and if that’s the case, maybe they’re not the right person to ask.

Send Friendly Reminders

Many people have been in the position where they have waited for a recommender’s confirmation email and it’s only days before the deadline and their inbox is empty. It can be awkward sending reminders to your professors or boss during those times, especially when you know they’re doing you a favor. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sending a couple friendly reminders. In a lot of cases, it can help your recommender amidst their busy schedule. Kristy suggests sending friendly reminders one week prior and a few days prior to the deadline just in case.

Let Them Know How It Goes

If someone is writing you a letter of recommendation, they definitely care about your career goals and plans. So, let your recommender know how everything turns out. Kristy says, “Keep them informed as you hear back. Recommenders want to see you succeed and enjoy hearing the good news directly from the student.”

Send a Thank You Note

Sending thank you notes is a huge part of any application process, but it’s especially meaningful when it’s to say thank you for someone helping you. “A handwritten note is very much appreciated,” mentions Kristy. If you don’t have someone’s physical address, sending a thank you email is suitable as well.

What tips have helped you ask for a killer letter of recommendation? Let us know in the comments below!

Featured photo by @classifiedcloset.


  • Taryn Hoffman

    Editorial Fellow. NC State University Fashion and Textile Management Student. In love with coffee shops, books, and Netflix. Favorite hobbies are photography and traveling.