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How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are important, so target your approach by identifying the right people and keeping timing in mind.


  • Step 1: Make a list Make a list of the most influential people you know who are also familiar with you professionally and personally. Include those who have authored recommendation letters for others.
  • TIP: Choose a highly regarded current or past supervisor, a professor, or a high-level business person who knows you well enough to cite specific examples and anecdotes.
  • Step 2: Schedule events Schedule a timeframe for getting the letters to prospective employers. Factor in one or two months for each writer to satisfy your request.
  • Step 3: Assess comfort level Assess the comfort level of the individual before you ask for the recommendation. Knowing the person you are asking is essential to deciding how, when, and if you should ask.
  • Step 4: Ask for the recommendation Ask for the recommendation politely and with confidence. Be forthright and let the individual know why you need this recommendation and how important it is to you and your success.
  • Step 5: Offer information Offer the individual a fact sheet about yourself to help them compose the letter, including as biographical data, employment, academic, and volunteer history, and awards.
  • Step 6: Offer writing assistance Offer assistance with the composition of the letter, if needed.
  • Step 7: Allow them an "out" Allow your potential writer an "out," or a graceful way to say no. This allows them to avoid embarrassment. Just don't make it too easy for them to decline!
  • Step 8: Say thank you Say thank you in advance, and send them a gentle reminder, either via phone or e-mail, a couple of weeks before the recommendation is due.
  • FACT: Did you know? A study found that recommendation letters for women applying for faculty positions at a medical school were significantly shorter than letters for men.

You Will Need

  • A list of key individuals
  • People skills
  • Communication skills
  • Sufficient timeframes
  • A fact sheet
  • An "out

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