Job Search Tips

How to ask for a letter of recommendation

Written by Michael Hoon

At every professional stage in life (job searching, job switching, promotion seeking), there will come a time when you need to ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation. Though not as common as they once were, many would-be employers still want to know that someone vouches for you.

If the thought of asking someone to say nice things about you makes you nervous, don’t worry—it’s awkward for everyone. Here are a few tips on how to make the asking as easy as possible for everyone involved.

Ask someone who really likes you.

This seems like a given, but it’s worth stressing: only ask people you are certain will say wonderful, glowing things about you. Just because you worked for someone and did the bare minimum doesn’t mean he or she thinks fondly of you. If you were forgettable, you’re going to get a bland and generic letter.

Remember, this doesn’t always have to be a former (or current) boss. A colleague at your level is fine; so is someone you’ve worked with on volunteer projects outside of work. The key is that he or she can vouch for the exact skills the person receiving the letter wants in an employee.

Offer to clarify.

The more information you give, the easier it is for someone to knock out a letter. After you receive a “yes,” get specific. After saying thank you (always say thank you), describe in detail the specific job you’re applying for and what talking points would be most useful. You can give a list of skills the hiring manager wants in an applicant and remind the person you’re asking about how you have exhibited those skills in the past. It can also be helpful to outline some of your recent and past achievements for them to reference without having to look them up or ask.

Be prepared to draft it yourself.

A lot of times busier people will ask you to sketch out (or write entirely) the letter by yourself. Always say yes. Take the list of achievements this person knows you’ve accomplished, match them up with the list of requirements from the job posting, and go to town. In most cases, he or she will look it over, make a few cosmetic changes, and then sign it. You’ve made everyone’s life easier!

Respect people’s time.

Waiting until the last minute and then saying, “Please get this to me tomorrow,” is rude and inconsiderate. Your letter of recommendation is not among the most important things in someone’s life, and no one should have to drop everything just because you were too lazy to ask in advance. Give someone at least a week (and ideally two or three) to get you a letter.

Just ask.

Popping the question can be hard, but you won’t get a letter if you don’t ask for it. Yes, you might feel uncomfortable asking someone to do a favor for you, but if you’re smart about who you ask and pick someone who only has glowing things to say, chances are he or she will be more than happy to do it. Give the key details, throw in a little flattery, and ask away.

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About the author

Michael Hoon

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