Some companies will request you provide a letter of recommendation during your interview process. You’ll want to have them ready to go in case you get asked for one. The best time to ask a colleague (usually a former colleague) for a letter of recommendation is when you resign from your job. This, of course, assumes the parting is amicable. Unfortunately, if an employer does not take the news of your resignation well, you might need to wait a week for things to calm down if you are to receive a good letter.
Letters of recommendation are also requested from college professors or teachers for applications for internships, graduate programs, financial aid, scholarships, or job applications.
So, how do you ask for a letter of recommendation? Moreover, who do you ask? What should the letter say, and can you influence what the recommender puts in the letter? This article answers all these questions and provides some template examples of written requests for a recommendation.
Letters of recommendation are written by someone that you have had a professional relationship with; for example, teachers, counselors, or managers. The purpose of the letter is to recommend your work or academic performance to another organization.
These letters are typically sent to a hiring manager or admissions officer who is deciding whether to employ you or admit you to a program, and the letters should vouch for your qualifications and character. It's a strong recommendation from someone with credentials.
Writing a letter of recommendation for someone is an undertaking. It takes time and thought. Therefore, the person who agrees to provide you with a letter of recommendation is doing you a huge favor and probably thinks highly of you. Who you ask for a letter of recommendation may depend on who is to receive the letter of recommendation.
If the purpose of the letter is to aid your application to a college or graduate program, you might want to ask a college professor or teacher with whom you’ve had a good relationship. If the letter is to be sent to a prospective employer, a past supervisor would be the obvious choice as a provider of a letter of recommendation.
Some examples of people who could provide a letter of recommendation are:
A previous supervisor or boss
A professor, teacher, guidance counselor, or faculty member
A close family acquaintance
A pastor or minister
Recent grads who are applying for an internship, graduate program, financial aid, or a scholarship can greatly benefit from a letter of recommendation.
Students should request letters of recommendation during their junior year. That way, they can be ahead of the competition for college applications. It’s helpful if students give their personal statement to the letter writer so that the writer knows what to aim for in the letter of recommendation.
Expert Tip: If you are a student requesting a letter from a professor or teacher for a school application or for graduate school, it would help the writer if you sent a summary of your classwork and grades. That way, they don’t have to research your classwork.
Although you may not be applying for a job, it’s a good idea to include a resume for a professor because it indicates the career direction you intend to take. This context will inform the letter writer as to what to write.
Ask the recommender to provide the letter by a certain date well ahead of your application deadlines. The application will show the date when you need to submit your application documents, but you will need the letter earlier so that you have enough time to compile all the documents. Setting deadlines for the application process is particularly crucial if you are applying for a scholarship or graduate study program.
Some schools have policies regarding requesting letters of recommendation for college admissions. For example, you might be required to fill out a recommendation form. Check your school policies in plenty of time so that you know what the process will entail.
The best way to ask for an effective letter of recommendation is either face-to-face or by phone. This is the most personal approach, and it gives you an opportunity to explain the context. You can also state why you would like that person to provide a letter, and you can express your appreciation if the person agrees to write one.
Here’s an example of what you can say when you ask for a letter of recommendation.
“Thank you for speaking with me. I have really enjoyed working/studying with you. I have learned so much under your tutelage. I would like to ask you if you would be willing and would feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for me?
I am applying for [add the job or the course/scholarship], and your input would make such a difference to my application. I could provide you with insights into what the [company name/institution] is looking for and any background information that you would need.”
An email request is acceptable if an in-person conversation is not an option. Here’s an example of an email template requesting a letter of recommendation from a former supervisor.
Email subject line: Recommendation Letter Request
Dear [add name]
I want to thank you for the opportunity to work together over the past few years. You have been a mentor to me, and I have learned so much under your guidance.
I would be so grateful if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation that I could use in the future for my job search.
If you are comfortable doing so, could you refer to any [leadership] skills that you believe I possess and my work ethic. I attach my resume in case that would be of use.
Here’s an example of an email requesting a letter of recommendation from a former professor or teacher.
Dear Professor [add name],
I’m writing to you to request a recommendation letter. I’m applying for positions as a product developer, and I’d like to show that I have the coding ability to complete complex challenges and my personal strengths in terms of keeping calm when meeting tight deadlines. I’ve attached my resume, cover letter, and a work summary while attending your lectures and completing your coursework.
My potential employer is looking for a recommendation letter by next Tuesday by 5 pm Eastern time. If you feel comfortable doing so, would it be possible to write a recommendation letter for my employer by Monday [add the date]? I would sincerely appreciate it.
If your contact agrees to write a letter of recommendation, you should make it as easy as possible for them to do so. That means giving them the background of why you need a letter, what purpose it will serve, and who it will be sent to. It’s also a good idea to let the recommender know what the focus should be.
For example, if you need the letter for a computer science academic program, the recommender can focus on the characteristics or skills that make you a good fit for that academic program. They could mention your commitment to learning programming languages or your proven success in developing groundbreaking products.
If you are applying for a job, provide the letter writer with the job description with a brief note of your skills that you think align with the new job.
You should also provide the person with a deadline, and let them know what you would like them to include in the letter. If the letter is to be submitted as part of an application to an academic program, provide the recommender with the application materials.
When you suggest to the recommender things to highlight in the letter, consider giving them test scores or examples of your achievements that they can reference.
Be sure to thank them for their willingness to help you.
To summarize, below are steps for job seekers and students to consider when asking for a letter of recommendation from an educator or a former boss:
Make a list of the professionals, professors, or faculty you would like to request a letter from. Select someone you know would speak highly of you.
Speak with each one over the phone or in person, and request their letter of recommendation explaining why you have chosen them.
Email them the objectives for the letter and any background information, such as a job application or college application details with the deadline, or a cover letter, resume, and other candidate information.
When you receive the recommendation letter, send a thank-you email for their time and effort. Also, let them know the outcome if it is a good one. Everyone likes to know that they contributed to good news.
Hopefully, the person you request a recommendation letter from will provide one by your deadline. However, if you don’t receive the letter within five business days or by your deadline, send the writer an email politely reminding them.
Here’s an example of what you could say:
Dear Professor [____],
I want to thank you again for agreeing to provide me with a letter of recommendation. I would like to ask if it would be possible for you to send me the letter by [add new deadline]. I understand that you are busy and this is a special request.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do or any documents that I could send you that would be of help.
If you still don’t hear back from the letter writer after sending a polite reminder, you should assume the person is not going to provide the letter. Never send more than one reminder email where a letter of recommendation is concerned.
If you are resigning from your job and would like to request a generic letter of recommendation from your employer, do so once you have resigned, your employer has gracefully accepted your resignation, and before your final day of employment. To find out how to resign without burning your bridges, check out the article, “How to Give Two Weeks’ Notice.”
A good strategy is to give your two weeks’ notice and then to wait a week to request the letter of recommendation. Why? If you immediately request a letter of recommendation after giving your notice, it can seem like you are desperate to leave. That may very well be the case, but your employer might feel pressured to give a positive recommendation while still reeling from the news. Giving your employer a little time to process your leaving might be more conducive to them writing a strong letter of recommendation.
Final tips for getting a glowing letter of recommendation:
Prepare a list of possible providers
Deliver the recommendation request in person if you can
Ask for the letter two weeks in advance to give you plenty of time to meet deadlines
If you sense hesitation, ask someone else
Provide any additional information or documentation that could be useful
Give a due date that allows you ample time to compile your application documents
Always follow up with a thank you