How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (Examples)

a picture of business person and how to ask for a letter of recommendation

Want to know how to ask for a letter of recommendation? As a resigning employee, asking for a letter of recommendation (or sometimes referred to as a reference letter) from a current employer is key. It's okay to ask a colleague, supervisor, manager, or boss. 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. And providing the writer with goals or objectives for the letter. Then set a deadline for when the letter is required (helpful for medical school and college application purposes).

For professional purposes

In most cases, recommendation letters get 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.

Provide the writer with details

Provide the recommendation writer to provide insights when producing the letter. Here are some examples of:

  • Include test scores and school projects that admissions officers might appreciate.
  • Include an extracurricular activity that showed leadership, promise, or drive.
  • Any 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.

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

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:

  • Pastor or minister.
  • Close family acquaintance.
  • Previous manager, boss, or supervisor.
  • Counselor or guidance counselor.
  • 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 get used in showing 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 applying for a graduate program, financial aid, a scholarship, or other admission committee requirements.

Tip: If seeking a college recommendation letter, it’s best for students to ask for their letters of recommendation during the 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

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.
  • Email them 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 it 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.

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

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 on time. 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.

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

When to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

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 letter requester's efforts. 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, the employee should ask their manager for a letter of recommendation. It's best to confide in the manager and tell them that the recommendation letter does not have any implication on current employment (the employee is not resigning). The employee is asking for a confidential letter because it "feels like the right time."

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

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 get "pressured" by some students applying to grad school or other post-secondary institutions.

Pro tip: It's vital to ask for a customized and tailored letter of recommendation. Especially one that's based on the role. Having a professional write a generic letter of recommendation isn't going to provide much to the hiring manager. Be sure to send the job posting to the person writing the letter.

Perfect time to ask

The perfect time to ask for a letter of recommendation is when a significant accomplishment has been made. It's okay for professionals who have submitted their two weeks' notice 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.

An employee shouldn't wait until the final day of employment to ask for a letter of recommendation. Then 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, immediately requesting a letter of recommendation can get misinterpreted by the manager. It might communicate that the employee is "eager" to leave or resign from their position.

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

Pro tip: A counselor or teacher expects to write recommendation letters for all students. They might not need as much information as a professional or business contact. Be sure to provide all the necessary details about the company and job prospect so the business contact can write exactly what the job title requires.

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 your 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?"

Pro tip: It's customary to send thank you notes to each person that provides a letter of recommendation. This ensures the professional contact feels valued and thanked for their time or efforts.

how to ask for 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 to 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 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

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

Pro tip: If you don't receive the letter within 5 business days, politely remind your contact about the upcoming deadline for either a school application process or job application. Remind the business contacts about the due date of the application and the relevant work habits or school achievements you'd like to see in the letter.

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 show that I have the ability to follow through on tough challenges and 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 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. I’d like to show my coursework and 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 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 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:

  • [First Recommendation Letter Objective or Goal]
  • [Second Recommendation Letter Objective or Goal]
  • [Third 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. And if applying for graduate school. And need to have a board review, or needing the letter for a job application. Then if the author doesn't comprehend when the requester needs the letter by a certain date, it may never get 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 authored specifically for the company the job applicant is attempting to hire. Going one step further than this would be to inform the letter writer of the hiring manager's name. And their position. Then the letter can be authored specifically for that professional.

Choosing the wrong professional

The job seeker or employee must choose 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 will 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 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 to ensure that the letter is being authored.

Pushing when being denied

If asking a professional or professor and denying the request to write a resignation letter, it might sting. Still, it's best to move onto the next potential professional to ask. Please 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 between follow-up emails or follow-up requests asking for a status update on the recommendation letter.

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, Dice.com, WorkWise, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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