How to Ask for a Perfect Letter of Recommendation [2020 Updated]

how to ask for a letter of recommendation

Letters of recommendation can be an extremely powerful tool. In fact, more often than not, if you provide your new potential employer with a letter of recommendation, they probably won’t need to contact your previous employers. This not only saves them a step in the hiring process (which they’ll appreciate) but it gives you the opportunity to show your worthiness for the job without having to rely entirely on your interview.

So how do you get a letter of recommendation from your previous employer? Or if you are a new graduate, how do you obtain a letter of recommendation that you can use when interviewing? We’re going to cover all of this and more.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Table Of Contents

Why Are Letters Of Recommendation Important

Letters of recommendation are important because they provide your new employer with merit. Letters of recommendation don’t absolutely mean that you’ll be securing your next job. But it can help to clarify some loose ends.

Let’s take leadership as an example. If your employer isn’t sure about your leadership capabilities after your interview, but your letters of recommendation contain leadership notes, then they most likely will give you a chance.

Pro tip: In a 2018 HireRight survey, 85% of employers surveyed uncovered a lie or misrepresentation on a candidate’s resume or job application. Meaning the use of professional references, letters of recommendation or referrals are vital to increasing your chances of employment.

The benefit of having a letter of recommendation is that it can hold the potential for your new employer to look the other way at skillets or interview questions that they don’t think you answered correctly or have. In fact, 45% of interviewers will read your letters of recommendation before they read your cover letter.

This can make letters of recommendation extremely powerful in making sure that you have the best chance of getting employed.

Will They Help You In Your Next Interview

Letters of recommendation will absolutely help you in your next interview. While your new employer or hiring manager won’t ask for them upfront. You should always provide them along with your resume and your cover letter.

Remember, having letters of recommendation don’t guarantee that you’ll be employed right after your next job interview. But it can help to smooth out some of the edges of the interview and push forward the process.

What’s Important For The Letter To Contain

Here’s what most guides won’t tell you: you need to inform the person you’re asking to write to the letter, what they should bring forward about working with you.

For example, if you simply ask a previous colleague to write you a letter of recommendation, they’re going to think on their feet. And write the letter based on what they valued about you. While that’s great, it might not be the best for you.

If you can inform the person that’s writing the letter which job function you’re applying to, they can more easily target the letter to be applicable for your future interviews.

Make sure they cover:

Asking For A Letter Of Recommendation (Simple 3 Steps)

Asking for a letter of recommendation is fairly simple. Firstly, you should be sure that you are asking high-level professionals for the letter. Asking one of your peers for a letter of recommendation isn’t going to be that helpful. When you have the letter of recommendation, it should contain that professionals name as well as their title. For example, “VP of Marketing” is going to be a powerful letter of recommendation.

Here’s what you’ll want to do to ask for a recommendation letter:

How To Ask A Professor Or Teacher For A Letter Of Recommendation (Email Example)

If you don’t have a previous employer, then asking a professor or teacher can be a powerful way to help your hiring manager gain some confidence in you.

When you ask a professor or teacher for a recommendation letter, be sure that you’re asking them to point out what makes you unique or special. Because you don’t have working experiences to pull from you might need to ask the professor to highlight group activities where you showed leadership or moments where you showed your talents.

Here’s an example email template you can use to get a letter of recommendation from your professor:

Dear Professor,

As you know, I’ve truly enjoyed your course. As we spoke about al letter of recommendation, this is my note to help me get one. I have a few interviews lined up. Most of them are in investment banking. With that in mind, I would love it if you could highlight some areas of our time together that might be more applicable to investment banking.

Some of those area’s of interest would be:

My interviews are two weeks from today so I would sincerely appreciate the letter before then.

Thank you so much,
[Your name]

How To Ask Your Employer For A Letter Of Recommendation (Email Example)

If you’re going to ask a previous employer for a letter of recommendation, be sure that you’re thinking about your career path and how these letters might be most applicable to that.

Because you might only be able to ask for a letter of recommendation after you’ve resigned, you should be sure that you indicate your desires as a professional and how they can highlight facts about working with you that are applicable to that.

Here’s an example email that you could send to a previous manager:

Dear John —

I’ve sincerely appreciated being able to work with you. You’ve taught me so much. As we discussed, this is my email asking for a letter of recommendation.

I see myself continuing along on the Product Management path in my career. If possible, I would love to have the letter highlight some of these key areas:

Thank you so much for taking the time to write this.

[Your name]

Email Subject Lines Asking For A Letter Of Recommendation

If you're sending off your email and curious what your subject line should be, keep it simple. Here are a few examples of what is proper and professional:

Letter of Recommendation FAQ's

Questions from students and professionals about their recommendation letter.

How can I make sure the recommender says what I want them to say?

Provide the recommender some guidance on what you need out of your career or intent of your letter. For example, if the letter is for medical school or a college application, provide them that insight. A college letter is going to be much different than a professional letter. But your email template will be the same as the above. The best way to get a strong letter from the other party is to tell them what you need specifically. Ask them to highlight particular parts about you that will create a great letter.

What if I need a recommendation letter as a student?

If you need a letter as a student, you can still use the letter request email provided above. The letter can be to a professor, teacher, faculty member, or counselor.

What is a reference letter?

A reference letter is very similar to a letter of recommendation. Though, it may be used for personal reasons, like for a home application or something similar.

When is a recommendation letter important?

It's important for application materials in schools, college, internship programs, jobs, financial aid, for admissions committee meetings, grad school, a graduate program, and more. A college recommendation letter and job application letter are not that different. Though, you might be asking a member of faculty or professor versus asking a previous colleague. If you are asking a professor, be sure to request that you obtain your letter during office hours, which is considered polite.

How many letters should I get?

Receiving multiple letters can be a good idea. Especially if you're using it for school. That way you can pick from the best of them and use that. This could be from a guidance counselor, from admissions officers, or all sorts of professionals.

If I have an application, should I tell them the deadline I need the letter written by?

Yes, in your written request for a recommendation, tell them the application deadline. This will help to make sure that your recommendation request is received and written in the time that you need it.

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,, SparkHire, and many more.


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