Asking for a letter of recommendation
Our recommendation? Read these tips and getting your next letter of recommendation will be a breeze.
Asking for a letter of recommendation? Try these tips.
Whether you’re looking for a new job, applying for admission to graduate school or vying for a scholarship, chances are you’re going up against competition—and plenty of it. You need to find a way to stand out. One way to do so is with a strong letter of recommendation.
Of course, the only way to get a letter is to ask for it—the prospect of which likely fills you with dread. What will she say? Will you annoy him with your request? Is there anything you can you offer in return? Worse, what if the boss you thought loved you secretly hated you?
It’s OK to feel nervous, but believe it or not, most people will be happy to write something on your behalf.
“With people who have worked with me in the past, if they ask me for a letter, I am more than willing to write them one,” says Peggy McKee, CEO of Dallas-based Career Confidential. “But If I was happy with them, I would like to do anything I could to help them going forward.”
See, it’s not that difficult! But if you’re still hesitant, use this approach to get the letter of recommendation that you need.
Just pop the question
Yes, it may sound simplistic, but the truth is the way to ask for a letter of recommendation is to ask.
“A lot of students feel anxiety asking for a letter of recommendation; what they should realize is that we get asked all of the time!” says Jessi Franko, an adjunct communications professor at Rider University and Mercer Community College in New Jersey. “They are definitely not the first person to ask and definitely not the last. I get asked to write recommendation letters for current students, former students and even colleagues at least twice a month.”
Rather than apologizing or beating around the bush, ask the question straightforwardly, noting the purpose for which you need the letter and the deadline.
You say: “I’m applying for an internship, and I need to include two letters of recommendation. Would you be willing to write one for me? I’d need it by the 20th."
Suggest some talking points
Don’t just ask, “Can you write me a letter of recommendation?” Be sure to mention what information you’d like the letter to include.
“If somebody is trying to apply for a certain type of job, I would recommend that they try to ask that the reference letter includes specific examples of work that they had done in that field, or specific examples skills and abilities that they have that would be relevant to that field,” says Jill Saverine, senior vice president of human resources for Stamford, Connecticut-based Aircastle.
You say: “Thank you for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I was hoping you could mention the role I played in our big campaign and how my blog post helped increase our company’s site traffic.”
Be prepared to write the letter yourself
Let’s be honest, we’re all busy these days. Someone may be willing to write you a letter of recommendation, but feel crunched for time. If that happens, they might ask that you write the letter for them. This is OK. They’ve still offered to help you and you have your signed letter of recommendation. It’s a win-win!
Need help writing it? Use our sample recommendation letter template.
“Put together a few statements about what you’ve done, what you can do and some of the best things that you did while you worked there, maybe mention a particular story about something,” McKee says. “Send it to them, let them choose what they want to pick and keep and put their little signature at the bottom and you’re done!”
You say: “I know this is a busy time of year for you. If you don’t have time to write it, perhaps I could write something for you to review and if it looks all right, you could sign it?”
Once you have the letter, do this next
A strong recommendation letter is an excellent counterpart to your resume. But neither will do you any good just sitting on your computer. Want to put them to good use? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—all tailored to different jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Pull them in with the resume, and use your recommendation letter to seal the deal.
Sample Letters and Email Messages Asking for a Reference
If you're applying for a job, it's likely you'll need a reference. It's a good idea to get references lined up before you start a job search. That way you'll have a list of people who can recommend you ready to share with prospective employers. You can ask for a reference with a phone call, or an email or a hard-copy letter, but either way, you'll want to write your request carefully.
Here are tips on how to ask for a reference, as well as sample letters that you can use as a guideline while writing your own reference request.
Choose Your References Wisely
The person giving you a reference may need to write a letter, fill out a questionnaire, respond to an email, or speak to someone from human resources on the phone. If the person doesn't know you well, it'll show. Choose someone who thinks highly of you, and can speak fluently about your career and talents. It's important to make sure that the individual who is recommending you for employment can give you not just a reference, but a good reference. Here are tips for choosing the best person to provide a job reference.
Always Give the Person You're Asking an Out
Make sure to give the person an easy way to decline providing you with a reference. A bad reference can be the difference between you getting a job offer— or not. It would be preferable to have the person decline to provide a reference, rather than write a halfhearted or negative letter.
In your reference request, you can say things like "I know end-of-the-year evaluations are due soon, so if you're too busy to provide a reference, I completely understand" or "It's been five years since we worked together, so if you don't feel comfortable speaking to someone about my work habits after so long, please just let me know."
Give Your Reference a Heads-Up
Do not give out anyone's name as a reference without their permission and without knowing what they are going to say about you. The individual who is giving you a reference needs to know ahead of time that they may be contacted regarding a reference for you. Once you have permission, let your reference providers know when you share their names with prospective employers.
Former co-workers and managers are under no obligation to serve as a reference. You are asking for a favor, so be polite and warm in your request. You can also mention why you thought the person would be an ideal reference.
How to Ask for a Reference Letter
References can be requested in writing or by email. If there are forms the recommender needs to complete, you may want to send an email message asking for the recommendation, then follow up with a written letter and the forms.
In your letter requesting a reference, it can be helpful to provide the potential recommender with background information, including your current resume and a link to the job description (or a short summary). You can also briefly mention specific qualities and skills of yours that you would like your reference to mention. If you have any information about how the company will be reaching out to the recommender — phone, email, etc. — you can include those details as well.
It's a good idea to review sample letters asking for a reference to get ideas for your own letters. These samples, both written and email, include the best ways to phrase your request and how to ask someone to be your reference.
Thank Your Reference Writer
When you get a new job, don't forget to send a thank you note to the individuals who provided you with a reference.
Not only will it let your reference giver know that they have helped you. It will also let them know how much you appreciated the job search help.