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

Take these tips from career experts and hiring managers on who and how to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Written by Dawn Kawamoto
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (With Templates)
Image: Shutterstock
UPDATED BY
Brennan Whitfield | Apr 11, 2024

A letter of recommendation is a formal document written by someone who can speak highly of an individual based on their abilities or qualities as a student or professional. It is often required when applying to college or graduate school, and can even be used as a vehicle for a promotion at your job. 

When done right, a letter of recommendation can give you an edge in the college application or job selection process — so knowing how to ask for one is a crucial skill.

How to Request a Letter of Recommendation

  1. Get confirmation from the person you are asking to write it.
  2. Make the process of writing it as easy as possible.
  3. Express gratitude to the person who writes it and provide them with an update on the outcome of the application.

 

What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

Letters of recommendation attest to your strengths, capabilities and attributes and are written by someone who is familiar with your work in a company or educational setting. The purpose of the letter is to help you get a job or secure admission into a college or academic program of your choice.

A letter of recommendation can also help when moving into leadership or other opportunities at your current employer, said Blake Tomlinson, senior talent acquisition manager at cybersecurity firm BeyondTrust. In this case, they are the most effective when targeting a particular position, rather than trying to serve as a one-size fits all for every role.

 

Letter of Recommendation vs. Reference Letter

Requesting a letter of recommendation shouldn’t be confused with asking someone to serve as your reference.

Letters of recommendation are often used to vouch for an applicant during college, graduate school or research position admissions, while reference letters are often used in the job application process to ensure a candidate meets proper qualifications.

“When you ask someone to be a reference, it’s simply saying that you’re available to speak about the candidate to an organization,” JR Keller, assistant professor of human resource studies at Cornell University, told Built In. “Asking them to write a letter of recommendation is a bit different. It’s much more proactive.”

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Who Is Qualified to Write a Letter of Recommendation?

Teachers or Professors

For letters of recommendation to a college or graduate school, select teachers and professors who are familiar with your classroom participation, class projects or office-hour visits.

“You want a professor who has a taste of the kind of person you are, rather than just knowing you as a name on a class roster,” said Sarah Sikowitz, a director in Career and Professional Development at Harvard Business School.

 

Managers or Supervisors 

A former manager can write a letter of recommendation with specific outcomes of a project and how well it was executed or even how you tackled certain hurdles at work.

“You should ask your current or former direct manager or supervisor, someone who actually saw your work, your metrics, your performance on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis and who is in a position to assess you,” Zafar Choudhury, a senior recruiting leader at Amazon Web Services, told Built In.

 

Coworkers or Team Members 

It’s wise to have a number of people in mind outside of your manager that you can approach for a letter of recommendation, including coworkers, team members or people in your professional network that you’ve worked with. For example, if you don’t land the job and need another targeted letter for a different prospective employer, you don’t want to have to go to the same person each time to write another letter, said Kevin Susman, vice president of brand and communications at Matrixx Software

 

Vice Presidents or Executives 

A letter of recommendation from a vice president or other high-level executives may catch the attention of recruiters or hiring managers who skim through applications in a matter of seconds, said Victoria Neal, HR Knowledge Advisor with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

At the same time, though, a letter from an executive might be complimentary but vague, and not be able to highlight specific project outcomes or day-to-day challenges like a direct manager would.

 

How Do You Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

Ask Your Recommender at Least a Month Before It’s Due

Make the request for a letter of recommendation at least a month before it is due, but ideally as soon as possible.

Additionally, give professors and former work associates at least a week to make up their mind whether they want to write you a letter of recommendation on your behalf, Tomlinson said. Other career experts also noted to give people an easy out when inquiring about their willingness to write a letter of recommendation.

 

Ask In-Person, By Phone or By Email

Tomlinson recommends making a letter of recommendation request in-person whenever possible, but asking over the phone or by email can be effective as well. 

Asking for a letter of recommendation either verbally or in writing both have its pros and cons. In-person or over the phone requests make it easier to get a read on whether your recommender would feel comfortable writing one for you. Email requests could give them more time to consider instead of putting them on the spot.

 

Tell Your Recommender Why You Chose Them

Let the recommender know why you have chosen them — maybe it’s because you really enjoyed working with them or you knocked it out of the park on a few projects with them and you want to highlight those successes, Tomlinson said.

 

Keep the Request Detailed, But Short

In your initial email request, be sure you include all the necessary details and make it as easy as possible for your recommender to write the letter, but also keep it concise, said Rachel Amos, director of career services and employer relations for Carnegie Mellon University’s Information Networking Institute. You’ll want to briefly tell them why you need it and what it’s for, plus any deadlines or instructions on how to send it.

In general, it’s helpful to provide a list of talking points, career accomplishments as well as a copy of your resume and the job description. If you’re asking a teacher or college professor for a letter, it’s important to include your GPA, accomplishments in their class and other classes, and extracurricular activities. 

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Work-Related Letter of Recommendation Template

Dear [person’s name],

I hope all is well with you. I’m currently interviewing at [company] for the position of [position] and wanted to inquire if you would be willing to write a strong letter of recommendation on my behalf.

It’s been [X weeks, months or years] since we worked together at [company], when I was a [former role] and you were my [former role]. I remember this time fondly and truly enjoyed working with you and the work we did.

As my former [role], I believe you can speak to my skills in [select your skills that match up to the ones sought in the job description] and experience in [select your qualifications that match up to the ones sought in the job description] with specifics and examples. 

I have included a copy of my resume, a list of my accomplishments and the job posting for your reference. Additionally, if you would prefer, I could write a draft of my letter of recommendation for you to review and approve or adjust if needed. Please let me know if this is your preference.

I would greatly appreciate it if you could write and return the letter of recommendation to me by [name a date at least two weeks before you plan to use it]. This will provide me enough time to forward it onto the recruiters and hiring managers at [company].

I am extremely grateful you would consider taking time out of your day to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. Your willingness to do this means a great deal to me. 

If you have any questions or need further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

[name]

 

College-Related Letter of Recommendation Template

Dear [Professor or Dr.] [person’s name],

I hope all is well with you. I’m currently applying to [college or program] where I hope to study [major] and I wanted to inquire if you would feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation on my behalf.

I truly enjoyed having you as my [advisor or professor] in [subject] when I attended [college]. It’s been [X months or years] since I [attended your classes or had you as an advisor] and truly enjoyed that experience and gained valuable knowledge.

I have included a copy of my resume, a list of my accomplishments and personal background, which I hope will be of value when writing the letter of recommendation and providing specific examples of my talents and abilities in and outside of the classroom.

The deadline to submit the letter of recommendation is [deadline date]. Please submit the letter of recommendation per the instructions of the [college/university or program]. 

I am extremely grateful you would consider writing a letter of recommendation on my behalf. It means a lot to me that you would take time out of your busy schedule to help me. 

If you have any questions or need further information, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

[name]

 

What to Avoid When Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

8 Steps to Avoid When Asking For a Letter of Recommendation

  • Don’t ask for a letter of recommendation at the last minute.
  • Don’t text your request asking for a letter of recommendation.
  • Don’t send a poorly written, incoherent request to write a letter of recommendation.
  • Don’t forget to say why you are asking for a letter of recommendation.
  • Don’t forget to give a deadline of when the letter needs to be submitted.
  • Don’t ask someone to write a letter of recommendation who isn’t familiar with your work or academic performance.
  • Don’t constantly nag the letter writer to submit the document, though it’s okay to send one or two reminders.
  • Don’t rewrite the letter of recommendation.

 

Don’t Make a Last Minute Request

“One thing to avoid is asking for a letter of recommendation and telling them it’s due by tomorrow. It shouldn’t feel like a last minute request,” Keller said, noting professors should ideally be given at least a one month notice.

 

Don’t Request a Letter Over Text Message

Not only should you avoid sending the request by text, but also be careful to send requests that are poorly written or contain typos, Keller said.

 

Don’t Leave Out Why You Need a Letter 

There shouldn’t be any confusion around why you’re reaching out for a letter of recommendation, Tomlinson said, adding, “Inform the writer of your motivation. I wouldn’t leave it open for interpretation.” 

 

Don’t Ask Someone Who Isn’t Familiar With You or Your Work

Never ask people to write a letter of recommendation for you if they are not familiar with your work. 

 

Don’t Rewrite the Recommendation Letter

If someone has taken the time to write a letter of recommendation, don’t re-write the letter either, Susman said.

“Be cognizant of the fact that you’re making an ask of someone,” he added. “And, frankly, they are putting their reputation out there for you and you should treat it with respect.”

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Signs Someone Won’t Write a Letter of Recommendation

Your Recommender Doesn’t Know You Well Enough

On some occasions, people have asked Susman to write a letter of recommendation where he felt uncomfortable with their request. Those feelings stemmed from not knowing the person well enough to write the letter of recommendation and he had to turn them down.

“The best letter of recommendation is going to be from somebody who can say the most about you,” Amos said.

 

Your Recommender Keeps Rescheduling Your Request 

If the person who you’ve asked to write a letter repeatedly reschedules your meeting to discuss your request, it’s time to look for alternative options.

“If they drag their feet on responding back to you, they’re probably not a good person to ask for a recommendation,” Choudhury said. “They are either too busy or reluctant because their experience with you wasn’t great.”

 

Your Recommender’s Company Doesn’t Allow Letters of Recommendation

If a former manager or executive at a company where you worked declines your request for a letter of recommendation, it could stem from the company’s policy that prohibits writing letters of recommendation on corporate letterhead or from a company email account, Susman said. If that is the case, inquire whether a personal letter of recommendation can be written. 

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When to Send a Letter of Recommendation in an Interview

In a job application process, some career experts advise uploading the letter of recommendation at the same time you upload your resume and work samples, while others suggest including it with a thank-you note after the final round of interviews.

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How to Show Appreciation for a Letter of Recommendation

Thank Your Recommender for Their Time and Effort

It sounds simple but it’s a step that’s often overlooked. You should not only thank the person for their willingness to write a letter of recommendation but also thank them after they have written it.

 

Update Your Recommender on Your Application Outcome

It’s important to loop back with the person who wrote your letter of recommendation to update them on the final outcome of your job interview or college admissions effort.

“When you get your answer whether you’ve been admitted or not admitted, hired or not hired, follow up with this person and thank them again,” Sikowitz said. “I think it’s just a really nice way to close the loop.”

 

Frequently Asked Questions

When asking for a letter of recommendation from someone: 

  1. Ask them in-person, by phone or by email at least a month before the recommendation is due.
  2. Explain what you need the recommendation for and why you chose them to provide one.
  3. In an initial email request, briefly provide details about your recommendation letter, such as deadlines, delivery instructions and any information to help them write about you (accomplishments, projects, GPA, copy of resume and job description if applicable).

It is okay to email someone to ask them for a letter of recommendation, especially if you have only interacted with this person remotely. However, it is suggested to ask for a recommendation in-person or over a phone call if possible.

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