How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (+ Example Email Requests) [2020]

As a resigning employee, asking for a letter of recommendation (or sometimes referred to as a reference letter) from a current employer, colleague, supervisor, manager, or boss can be a great way to collect a helpful job application asset for the future. When leaving on good terms with a company, this provides the employer with a desire to write a strong letter and overall positive recommendation for future employment purposes.

Asking for a recommendation letter is a fairly simple process. It involves showing gratitude to the letter writer for their future efforts, providing the writer with goals or objectives for the letter, and setting a deadline for when the letter is required (helpful for medical school and college application purposes).

In most cases, recommendation letters are requested for professional purposes, which alleviates the need to punctuate a deadline. When applying for an MBA program or other graduate school (sometimes referred to as “grad school”) needs, for example, providing the writer with the application deadline and application materials (like the application itself) can be useful.

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

Tip: To receive a “glowing letter of recommendation”, provide the letter writer with a few guidelines. Always address the reader by name in the greeting, use the CAR format (Challenge/Action/Results) and reference facts of the applicant versus subjective claims.

When asking the recommendation writer to provide insights into the letter. Here are some examples:

  • Including test scores and school projects that admissions officers might appreciate.
  • Including an extracurricular activity that showed leadership, promise, or drive.
  • Previous employment experiences that show competencies, skills, and teamwork.

Depending on the type of recommendation request, these would be helpful guidelines to send to the recommendation writer for what the letter should contain.

Tip: Collecting multiple letters from professional references can be helpful for any job seeker.

Here are professionals who may be able to write a recommendation letter:

  • A pastor or minister.
  • A close family acquaintance.
  • A previous manager, boss, or supervisor.
  • A counselor or guidance counselor.
  • A professor, teacher, or faculty member.

All of these individuals would be classified as a good “recommender” to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Tip: It can be useful to ask a professor for a letter of recommendation during their regularly scheduled office hours.

Recommendation letters can be useful for job seekers, students, and general professionals. They can be used to show a potential employer the worthiness of employment (competencies, skills, personal qualities, and meeting qualifications). Letters of recommendation can be useful for recent graduates who are applying for an internship program. And lastly, for students who are applying for a graduate program, financial aid, a scholarship, or other admissions committee requirements.

Tip: If seeking a college recommendation letter, it’s best for students to ask for their letters of recommendation during junior year of their schooling. This can “beat the competition” when it comes to the other student body who may be requesting letters of recommendation from their teacher or other faculty. Students should provide their letter writers with their personal statement for college to help assist the writer in creating a great letter of recommendation.

How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Below are steps for job seekers and students to consider when asking for a letter of recommendation:

  • Gather a list of professionals, professors, or faculty to request a letter from.
  • Speak with each one over the phone or in person and request their positive letter of recommendation.
  • Send them an email outlining objectives for the letter and any job application or college application details (including the deadline). Or a cover letter, resume, and other candidate information.
  • Upon receiving the recommendation letter, send a thank you email for their time and effort.

Asking a teacher or professor to write a recommendation letter

Include the following information in the email request to a professor or teacher.

Classwork: It can be beneficial to write a summary document outlining classwork, grades, and achievements so that the professor can reference when writing the recommendation letter. A professor who teaches hundreds of students is going to need something to look at when they start to write a letter.

A resume: Including a resume can be helpful for the request of a recommendation letter. It can show the professor what career path the student wants to take and what they are trying to communicate or convey to future employers through prior work experience, skills, and more.

A deadline: Asking a professor to complete the recommendation letter by a certain date can ensure that the student receives the proper recommendation in a timely manner. This can ensure that the student doesn't miss the opportunity to submit the job application before waiting for the professor to complete the letter. This can be especially helpful if using the recommendation letter for a graduate study program or scholarship request.

Be sure to check school policies on asking for letters of recommendation. Some professors, teachers, and institutions force the student to submit a recommendation form. This form puts a formal request to the professor to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Tip: Heard the term "rec letter?" A "rec letter" is a letter of recommendation or recommendation letter. This is a "slang" term for the name recommendation letter.

When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

While it's more common to ask professionals to be a reference, asking for a letter of recommendation can happen at any time in a professional's career or student's tenure.

Contrary to what most professionals and students believe, there's always a great time to be asking for a letter of recommendation. The best time to ask for a letter of recommendation is when a professor or manager is impressed by the efforts of the letter requester. When this occurs, that is the perfect timing to be asking for a letter of recommendation.

For example, let's say a professional completed a major milestone, delivered for a client. And the manager was impressed with that work. During that time, it's best that the employee ask their manager for a letter of recommendation. It's best to confide in the manager and tell them that the letter of recommendation does not have any implication on current employment (the employee is not resigning) and the employee is asking for the confidential letter because it "feels like the right time."

Students can follow this same idea. When a professor or teacher is happy with the student's coursework, it may be a great time to be asking for a letter of recommendation. For a student, asking earlier than the other classmates can be a wonderful idea. Most students wait until the end of the year to request a letter of recommendation, forcing the professor to be "pressured" by a number of students applying to grad school or other post-secondary institutions.

The perfect time to ask for a letter of recommendation is when a significant accomplishment has been made. For professionals who have submitted their two weeks' notice, it's okay to ask the manager for a letter of recommendation toward the end of their employment. It's advised to ask the manager for a letter of recommendation before the final day of employment.

If an employee waits until the final day of employment to ask for a letter of recommendation, the manager might not feel "compelled" to provide a nice letter of recommendation to the employee. After providing a two weeks' notice, wait one week before asking for a letter of recommendation. Why Because submitting a two weeks' notice, then immediately requesting a letter of recommendation can be misinterpreted by the manager. It might communicate that the employee is "eager" to leave or resign from their position.

How to Ask in Person

Meeting by phone or in-person (face-to-face) to ask for a letter of recommendation is considered a polite act. Here's what to say when speaking with a professional or employer, asking for a letter of recommendation:

"Thanks for speaking with me today Sarah. It's been an absolute pleasure being able to work with you. I feel like you've been a mentor to me and I'm sincerely grateful for being able to watch you work, learn from your work, and continue my career. I'd love it if you could be a reference for me and write a letter of recommendation for my future career efforts? I can provide insights into what I'm looking for a letter to display in terms of my skills, qualities, traits, and core competencies. Would you feel comfortable writing me a letter of recommendation?"

Recommendation Letter Request Email Sample

Below is a sample letter request email. Job seekers and students should avoid writing a written request for a recommendation as it can take longer to receive the letter.

Email subject line: Recommendation Letter Request

Hey John —

I want to thank you for the opportunity to work together over the past few years. You’ve been a mentor to me, and I will be carrying everything you’ve educated me into my next role. I was hoping you might be able to write me a letter of recommendation that I can use for future employment opportunities.

If possible, I’d love to refer to a couple of qualities that I think will assist me in my career:

  • Leadership qualities and teamwork.
  • Time management and organizational skills.
  • Any other significant experiences you have had with me.
I would love to get the recommendation letter within the next 4 business days if I can.

Thanks so much, John,
Robert

Recommendation Letter Email Request to a Professor or Teacher

Below is a sample email request asking a professor or teacher for a letter of recommendation.

Dear Professor Johnson —

I’m writing to you to request a recommendation letter. I’m applying for positions as an Account Executive and I’d like to be able to show that I have the ability to follow through on tough challenges and can be adaptable in stressful situations. I’ve attached my resume, cover letter, and a summary of work while attending your lectures and completing your coursework.

My potential employer is looking for a recommendation letter rather quickly. And the earliest deadline, in order to help me, would be next Tuesday by 5 pm eastern time.

If it is possible to write a recommendation letter for my employer by then, I would sincerely appreciate it.

Thank you so much,
Ian Marks

Recommendation Letter Email Request for Medical School

Below is a sample email requesting a letter of recommendation for medical school, by email.

Dear Professor Johnson —

I’m writing to you to request a recommendation letter. I'm applying for a medical program at a post-secondary institution and I’d like to be able to show my coursework as well as align with the objectives and missions of each student as listed by the institution. I’ve attached information regarding the application, application deadlines, and other qualifications that the board of approval is looking for in an ideal student.

If possible, I would love to meet with you regarding this application and ensure that the correct qualifications are being met in both the letter and my application. I would appreciate your advice and guidance on my continued education.

Thank you so much,
Ian Marks

Recommendation Letter Request Email Template

Below is an email template to request a recommendation letter.

Email subject line: Recommendation Letter Request

Hey [Manager’s Name] —

I want to thank you for the opportunity to work together over the past few years. You’ve been a mentor to me, and I will be carrying everything you’ve educated me on into my next role. I was hoping you might be able to write me a letter of recommendation that I can use for future employment opportunities.

If possible, I’d love to refer to a couple of qualities that I think will assist me in my career:

  • [Recommendation Letter Objective or Goal]
  • [Recommendation Letter Objective or Goal]
  • [Recommendation Letter Objective or Goal]
Thanks so much [Manager’s Name],
[Your Name]

Recommendation Letter Request Mistakes

Below are common mistakes from employees or students requesting a recommendation letter.

Demanding and not asking

A good letter takes time to author correctly. The writer needs to consider the applicant or student, consider their objectives, and write something thoughtful. This will take the professor or professional at least one to three hours to complete. One to three hours of a business day is a significant amount of time. If the letter requester demands the letter impolitely, the chances of receiving a well-written letter diminish.

Not providing useful insights

Career accomplishments, career goals, test scores, coursework, or other useful pieces of information that the professor or professional can reference while writing the letter is vital. It saves the letter writer a significant amount of time. Include useful metrics and merits for the letter writer.

Not providing a deadline

A recommendation letter means nothing if it's not received on time. If applying for graduate school, needing to have board review, or needing the letter for a job application—if the author doesn't comprehend when the requester needs the letter by, it may never be produced.

Not following up

If the letter requester didn't receive the letter, the requester should follow-up with the writer. Ask about the progress of the letter and ask if they need any help with authoring the letter.

Not sharing the job opportunity

Send the letter writer the business name, the company website, job description, and other useful links. This will help the letter writer craft a more relevant and targeted letter that is authored specifically for the company the job applicant is attempting to be hired at. Going one step further than this would be to inform the letter writer of the hiring manager's name and their position so the letter can be authored specifically for that professional.

Choosing the wrong professional

It's crucial that the job seeker or employee chooses a professional who thinks highly of them. Asking a professional who doesn't think of them will result in a poorly written letter that might lack impact. Each job seeker should consider asking someone who has complimented their work or shows clear respect for their demeanor and professionalism.

Assuming a letter will be authored

Don't assume that a professional or professor is going to be willing to write a recommendation letter. It's always best to ask politely and professionally, and then await the response. Ask for the letter of recommendation earlier than needed in order to allow for time to coordinate and communicate between requester and author.

Dropping off forms and information

If asking a professor, dropping off forms with an office assistant, or simply sending them by email is not going to be sufficient. The student should push to meet with the professor in person to ensure that the letter is being authored.

Pushing when being denied

If asking a professional or professor and they deny the request to write a resignation letter, it might sting, but it's best to move onto the next potential professional to ask. Don't reply to the professional with a pleading email or request, hoping that they'll change their mind.

Harassing when not receiving the letter

Following-up is one thing, but harassing the letter writer is another. Don't follow-up daily, asking where the recommendation letter is. Provide the professor or professional at least two business days in between follow-up emails or follow-up requests asking for a status update on the recommendation letter.

Recommendation Letter Templates

More recommendation letter resources.

Templates

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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