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How to ask for a letter of recommendation: 7 helpful steps.

Whether you’re looking for a job or trying to get into graduate school, a reference letter can help your application stand out from the pack.

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A quick guide to asking for a letter of recommendation.

  • Make a list of people you know who can vouch for your skills and character.
  • After approaching them casually, send a formal request to the ones who agree to write a letter for you.
  • Include a list of your achievements and qualifications, and be sure to give them plenty of time to write.
Requesting a letter of recommendation can be a delicate process. Follow these steps to ensure that you get positive responses from as many people on your list as possible.

1. Approach your letter writers in person.

First, reach out to the people on your list informally to gauge their interest and see if they feel comfortable writing a letter for you. This is best done in person, but a phone call will do if a face-to-face meeting isn’t feasible. If they agree, follow up with a formal request for a letter of recommendation via email.

A professor looking over a letter of recommendation with a student on a tablet in between classes

2. Give your writers plenty of time.

When you’re seeking a recommendation letter, time is always working against you. People will be much more willing to write a letter for you if they have ample time to do it, so don’t put off asking for one until the last minute. You should start making a list of potential letter writers as soon as the application process begins, and reach out to your candidates right away so they’ve got plenty of time to come up with a thoughtful and well-written recommendation.

3. Find a template for your request online.

If you’re struggling with how to phrase your message, you can search for recommendation request email templates online, which you can download and personalize to suit your needs. After you customize it, you can e-sign a PDF or add an e-signature to a Word document using the Adobe Acrobat Fill & Sign tool.

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4. Give details about what you’re applying for.

When you send your official letter of recommendation request, be sure to include some additional information about the school, job, or program you’re applying for in order to give the letter writer some context for what they should talk about.

5. Include a personal statement with information about your accomplishments.

If there are certain achievements or aspects of your character that you want your letter writer to mention, don’t be afraid to provide that information to them with your request. This could include:

  • Academic transcripts, including your GPA
  • Your updated resume and relevant work experience
  • A professional portfolio that showcases your best work
  • Your proudest achievements
  • A list of extracurricular activities you’ve participated in
  • A description of your volunteer work
  • Your interests and how they apply to your goals in life

6. Request a letter of recommendation before you need it.

A letter of recommendation can have a long shelf life, particularly in the professional world. When you’re leaving a job on good terms, consider asking your manager to write you a letter of recommendation. This way they can do it while your job performance is still fresh in their mind, and you can have the letter ready for your next application — whether it’s for a new job, grad school, or any other opportunity that requires a reference.

Once you’ve got your letter of recommendation on deck, it’s time to gather up other documents you might need for your job search, like a letter of interest to send to employers you want to work for.

7. Say thank you.

The last and most important thing to include in your request is a heartfelt and genuine thank-you. Writing a good recommendation takes time and effort, and you should make a point of showing your appreciation for that.

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Why ask for a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a staple of most college applications and job searches. While your resume and cover letter are your chance to make a case for why you think you’re a good candidate, a letter of recommendation demonstrates that people who know you think you’re good, too.

A strong letter of recommendation is a valuable leg up in the application process. But it’s important to be thoughtful about who you ask to write one for you.

Who should you ask to write a letter of recommendation?

Make a list of people who know you well and can speak to your character and work ethic. This could be a teacher, your high school guidance counselor, or one of your college faculty members. If you’re looking for a recommendation to include with a job application, ask one of your former managers or supervisors.

While your friends and family members may have a lot of good things to say about you, their words won’t mean as much to the admissions officer or hiring manager who reviews your application. Try to request letters from people who can give an unbiased view of who you are and how well you can follow directions and stay on top of tasks.

Try to come up with at least three or more possible letter writers. Not everyone you reach out to will have time to write a letter of recommendation, so you should plan to ask multiple people to make sure at least one or two accept your request.

Requesting a letter of recommendation can feel like a daunting process. But with the right preparation and organization, you can receive a letter that could change the course of your academic or professional career.