How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (With Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 2 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A letter of recommendation can help you when you're applying for internships, university admissions or jobs. It highlights your personal accomplishments and qualities to admission offices and hiring managers. Learning how to ask for a letter of recommendation can prepare you for the process. In this article, we discuss the steps to take to ask for a letter of recommendation, provide details to include in your request and share tips for getting one.

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a written document by an individual who evaluates you based on your accomplishments and quality of work. Your professors or employers can write this letter to verify your skills and overall work or academic performance. A letter of recommendation can help universities and hiring managers determine if you're potentially a suitable fit. It can also provide additional information beyond your grades and resume and help you to progress to the interview stage.

How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Here are the steps on how to ask for a letter of recommendation:

1. Decide on who to ask

If you require the letter for academic purposes, consider asking your professors. Choose professors who teach subjects related to your academic pursuits or with whom you have a close relationship. It can help to ask professors who know you and understand your work well. Professors who're familiar with your work quality and personality can better identify your strengths and write more detailed letters. They may also be more aware of your extracurricular involvements and can elaborate on them. For internship and job applications, you can ask your professors who taught you subjects related to the field of work.

You can also consider asking your internship colleagues or manager for a recommendation letter. They've observed you in a professional environment and collaborated on projects with you. Their letters can enhance your job application if you're thinking about working in a similar field. It's important to spend time with your professors and colleagues during informal events to build your network and give them the chance to get to know you better.

Related: Employment Reference Letter: Definition and How to Write One

2. Choose an appropriate time to ask

It's important to give your professor or professional colleagues sufficient time to craft a recommendation letter. Writing a recommendation letter typically takes around one to two hours. If you know that you require a letter for an upcoming job or academic application, you can ask your recommender at least two weeks before. This gives them time to check their schedules and set a time to write the letter. It can also help to send a reminder email closer to the deadline.

If you're unsure if you require a letter of recommendation, you can let your recommender know that there's a possibility and update them again when it's confirmed. This shows that you respect and value their time and effort to help you.

3. Schedule a brief meeting

Draft a short email to your recommender to ask if they have time for a short chat. Professors are typically keen to support you in your endeavours and have written recommendation letters for past students. You can also consider asking them before or after class when they're available to talk. Setting a meeting ensures that they have the time to listen to you. It also prevents you from interrupting them after classes if they have another class to teach or a meeting to attend.

After you've scheduled a meeting with them, arrive on time and be direct with your request. Ask if they're comfortable with writing a recommendation letter for you and share briefly about its purpose. This gives them the chance to say no if they have a packed schedule or aren't in the position to write one. If your recommender agrees to write the letter for you, follow up with an email containing all the relevant information and details. This helps them to craft the recommendation letter when they're available.

4. Send a follow-up email

In your follow-up email, include details like the full name of the programmes and the address of each institution that you're applying to. Elaborate on why you're pursuing the particular programme or fellowship and what they're about. It can help to explain how they fit in with your academic or professional goals. If the letter is for a job application, include details of the organisation and job position that you're applying for and briefly mention your career goals and why you're interested in the position.

Keep the email concise, with required details like the due date and any instructions on sending the letter. Some organisations and schools may ask you to mail recommendation letters directly to them or submitted through a web portal. Attach your updated resume and transcript for reference. You can also mention any additional achievements or activities you've participated in if they're relevant to your application.

Related: What Is an Employment Verification Letter? (With Examples)

5. Thank your recommender

After submitting the recommendation letter, ensure that you thank your recommender for their time and effort. You can consider sending a handwritten note or an email to express your gratitude. Mention how they've helped you advance in your educational or professional career. This can increase your chances of getting them to write future recommendation letters if necessary.

You can also update your recommender on the status of your applications. Thank them again for their help regardless of the results. They might give you advice on what to do next or alternative programmes to apply for.

Tips for getting a letter of recommendation

Here are some additional tips to get a recommendation letter:

Provide your strengths and achievements

Read through the programme or job requirements and take note of the required skills and qualities. Consider the ones that you want to highlight in your application and mention them to your recommender in an email or during the meeting. This lets them know what strengths and achievements you want them to emphasise in the letter. You can elaborate on them by citing specific examples. It can also help to pick strengths that your recommender recognises so that they can share their own examples.

Provide examples of your work

If you've worked on projects related to the programme or job that you're applying for, showcase them to your recommender. This can be in the form of a written document or an interactive website portfolio. Your recommender may have only taught you one course or worked with you on some projects. Sharing about your work gives them more content to write about. You can also mention which projects you're most proud of and elaborate on why you think they can boost your application.

Related: Tips on How to Write a Promotion Letter (With Examples)

Mention any challenges you overcame

Elaborating on specific challenges you faced while taking a particular course or working on projects can help recommenders to take note of your work ethic and attitude. These are worth mentioning in your letter of recommendation since it demonstrates how you react to challenges. It also allows recommenders to view the work you've produced from a different perspective and cite examples in the letter.

Ask alone

If you and a classmate plan to ask the same professor, consider asking them alone. Set up a meeting with the professor on your own to give your recommender time to focus on your needs. This enables them to understand your goals and write an individualised letter.

Ask politely

When asking for a letter of recommendation, it's important to be cordial and respectful. This can increase your chances of getting a favourable letter and make it easier for you to ask them for another letter in the future. Be considerate of their time and give them ample time to respond to your request. While professors may have written many recommendation letters for their students, it's not something their obligation to do.

Ask the recommender to submit the letter directly

When you submit your application, not asking to view the letter someone wrote about you shows your professionalism and helps you gain the trust of application officers. Some organisations require recommenders to send the letters directly to them or through a web portal. You can convey this to your recommenders instead of asking them to send you their written letter of recommendation. This might make them more comfortable knowing that you don't have access to the final submitted copy.

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