5 Tips on How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
So, you need a letter of recommendation. Whether you’re seeking admission to a college or university or you’re ready to apply for a job, having an excellent letter of recommendation can make all the difference in the outcome of your application. You may be wondering: What does it take to get the perfect letter of recommendation?
Before we talk about what makes a good letter of recommendation, let’s touch on some things to avoid.
First, don’t ask your parents for a letter of recommendation. It might be tempting — after all, who knows you better than your parents? But recommendation letters have to come from a person who can convincingly support your application. Because parents are hardly neutral parties when it comes to their kids, it’s just not possible for them to convince the person reading your letter that they’re objective about your skills and abilities.
Also, don’t seek a recommendation that focuses more on you personally than professionally. Being a friendly, outgoing, or confident person is great, but people really want to know what skills and experiences you will bring to the program or job you’re applying for. Finally, don’t put it off! Crafting a good recommendation letter takes time, and teachers and bosses are busy — so don’t ask them for the letter on Monday and expect them to have it done by Friday.
Why Letters of Recommendation Are Worth Your Time
Yes, finding the right person to ask for a letter of recommendation takes time and effort. But when done correctly, it is integral to the success of your academic and professional careers.
A good letter will reinforce why you are an asset to the school or company, and it will also show your value as viewed by someone you’ve worked with. An additional benefit is that requesting a letter of recommendation can help build your relationship with the person you’re asking to write for you by letting that person know you value him or her as a professional contact or mentor.
Also, the competition to get accepted into top universities and hired by your dream employer is tougher than ever. While it is true that colleges base much of their decision on your grades, coursework, personal essay, and experiences and that employers are looking for qualifications and expertise that will serve their businesses, having a good letter of recommendation can give you that extra boost that sets you apart from the rest of the applicants with similar qualifications.
The Right Way to Ask for a Letter
We already know what not to do when seeking a letter of recommendation, so now let’s talk about what you should do to obtain that perfect letter. No matter what you need the letter for, remember these tips before you ask someone to write it:
1. Ask politely.
This should be an obvious point, but it bears repeating. No one owes you a letter of recommendation, and writing one takes time and effort. Ask nicely and be sure you give the person plenty of time to have the letter done by the time you need it. If you need to mail the letter, providing addressed and stamped envelopes for the writer is also a thoughtful gesture, and it will ensure your letter gets to the right place.
2. Ask for recommendations from people you’ve worked with.
Personal relationships are valuable in education and in the professional world. You are likely to get the best, most genuine letters from people who know you well, so start there. Also, try to get a letter from someone whose experience with you fits the specific needs or qualifications your college or job will be looking for. A letter detailing what a great student you were in high school history class likely won’t cut it if you’re applying for a Ph.D. program in exercise science, for instance. The closer the reference fits, the more powerful your letter will be.
3. Clearly outline what you need in the letter of recommendation.
Different schools and jobs are looking for different things from an applicant, so be sure your writer knows what kind of letter you need and what needs to be included. Providing them with a short description will streamline the process and increase the chance that you’ll get precisely what you need.
4. Offer to reciprocate.
The person you choose to write your letter might need a letter of his or her own at some point. Including an offer to write a letter, endorse them on LinkedIn, or provide your contact information as a reference can build your professional relationship with your letter-writer. Be sure to offer to return the favor if he or she should ever need you to.
5. Be grateful and show it.
There’s nothing worse than going out of your way to help someone only to be left unsure how things went or whether he or she even appreciated your work. Thank-you cards are still classy and writing one to express your gratitude is always appropriate. Plus, it keeps you on the recommender’s good side in case you need another letter for a different application later.
When you’re ready to take the next step up your professional or educational ladder, having people by your side to help is invaluable. Noticing those who are with you throughout your climb and asking them to help give you a boost to the next rung is a natural part of the process. If you follow these steps, you’ll find yourself with solid, dependable resources every step of the way.
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