How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

As you begin the process of researching and applying for either internships or even a job, you will notice that applications have differing requirements. One common request that many applications make is that you submit a letter of recommendation. Some applications might ask for just one letter, while others might ask for more. It sounds simple enough. A letter of recommendation is just a formal letter in which someone refers you for a career opportunity by talking about your given strengths and talents. So how should you go about asking someone to recommend you? How should you begin?  

First, decide who you are going to ask. A list of at least three people from academic or professional backgrounds will be a good starting point. It will be beneficial to ask individuals who have had insight into your work, whether as a student or as an employee. You can ask professors, faculty advisors, or supervisors from previous jobs or internships if they might be willing to do this for you. Check the due date of when you need to have the letter sent in and then reach out to those you have chosen up to a month in advance. If you are asking a professor or faculty advisor, set up an appointment to meet with them. It is always a good idea to talk with each person face-to-face about your request. This communicates that you are taking the application and request seriously and that you have put a good amount of thought into deciding to ask him or her specifically. Making the request can be as simple as saying, “I’m applying for an internship, and I would like to ask if you would write a letter of recommendation for me.”

If someone feels uncomfortable with writing the letter because of not knowing much about you, it might be helpful to give the person some more information about yourself. For example, your professor may only know you through a specific class and the work you’ve handed in. If this is a cause for concern, you could write down some bullet points about your various accomplishments, interests you have, and other areas where you are involved. Then you can offer that list, as well as a copy of your resume, as reference material to the person if he or she agrees to write the recommendation. This will help him or her feel more confident in being able to suggest you with a more detailed representation of your character, as well as give better insight to your potential as an employee or intern.

Make sure that you give clear instructions of how to go about submitting the letter. Since you have given them plenty of notice before the deadline, you should not have to worry too much about the people you have asked sending in the letters on time. However, it is perfectly acceptable to send a reminder email about a week before the deadline just to confirm that they are writing the letter, where they should send it, as well as reminding them of the deadline. As always, make sure you show the person your gratitude for being willing to recommend you. You can show gratitude in various ways. At the very least you should send an email after the application has gone through just to thank the individual again for being willing to recommend you. You could also put some more thought into it though, by sending or giving a handwritten thank you card. Even a small token of appreciation, like chocolate or a gift card, could be a nice gesture.

Though the thought of asking for a letter of recommendation might make you nervous, the process will be fairly straightforward if you have fostered a good relationship with your professors, faculty advisor, or supervisors. These are the people who want to see you reach your full potential and they will likely be glad to have the opportunity to help you achieve that goal. Once the letter of recommendation has been sent in, you will be well on your way to the next step of the application process.


Photo courtesy of Alex Krall.

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