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How to ask for a letter of recommendation

How to ask for a letter of recommendation

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It is a common practice for people to request letters of recommendation for various reasons. Most often the recommendation request is when a person is applying for a job, a college degree program, an internship or a scholarship, and the application requires a reference or attestation of character.

Letters of recommendation are references from people who can verify a person's character and work practices. If you need to ask for a letter of recommendation, it is generally best to make the request to someone who:

  • Knows you well
  • Can testify to your character
  • Shares a good relationship with you

Depending on the type of application being submitted, who you ask can be a boss, former boss, colleague, friend or professor. It is best to consider your relationship and the kind of reference needed when making the decision of who to ask.

Here are few additional tips on how to ask for a letter of recommendation:

Plan accordingly

Once you learn you will need references and letters to attest to your character and/or work practices it is important to plan accordingly and make contact with the person(s) you would like to write your letter.

Asking for a recommendation letter as early as possible is more courteous and gives the person you've asked more time to plan the letter and think about what he or she wants to say. It is considered bad form to make a last-minute request and then have the expectation you'll get the letter immediately. It is best to not put someone on the spot, but rather give him or her plenty of notice.

Make personal contact

Personal contact is usually the best way to request a letter. Depending on the relationship you have with the person, you may be able to ask by a telephone call or email. Text messaging is generally not appropriate.

If the person you plan to ask is a professional contact or college professor, it is nicer to make a personal contact if possible and if distance isn't an obstacle. It is important to consider the person may have a busy schedule as well and, in that case, the avenue you choose should be custom-tailored to his or her availability and schedule.

Share details

If you are going to ask for a letter of recommendation it is important to share the details of why you need a letter. Offer the person(s) you plan to ask the particulars and also provide them with the requirements that the organization needs to approve or accept an application. Giving the person outlined details of what is needed in the letter is very helpful and gives him or her a starting point. Most people will appreciate having the details so they can better frame the recommendation letter.

Provide an addressed, stamped envelope

After making the request for a reference letter, provide the person with an addressed and stamped envelope. It is important to always keep in mind the person writing a letter of recommendation is doing you both a favor and a courtesy. Supplying the envelope is the polite thing to do; this way everything is prepped and the person can simply slip the letter in and drop it in the mail.

Send a thank you note

Always follow a recommendation letter request with a thank you note once the letter has been submitted on your behalf. The letter doesn't have to be excessively long, but should be sincere with an expression of gratitude.

It is not uncommon to feel awkward making this kind of request, but most people who are asked are happy to provide a letter of recommendation. Always ask someone who knows you well and will feel comfortable writing the letter about you. And remember to be courteous and to follow up to let them know if you've been accepted or hired.

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