How to Get Letters of Recommendation

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The job and school search is intense. There's no need to make it worse by scrounging for letters of recommendation at the last minute. Whether you need them for school or a job application, you should have these on hand to give out as needed.

Things You'll Need

  • Printer
  • Envelopes and stamps for mailing
  • The tough part of this process comes in before you even begin reaching out to collect the letters. You must have first been an impressive student or employee, and second, built a strong relationship with a teacher or colleague before you should ask for a letter of recommendation. Both employers and school selection boards can see right through a forced letter, or one that tiptoes around certain wording. To avoid getting recommendations that are mediocre at best, you need to give people something to be proud of you for.

  • After you've accomplished this, create a list of the people who you would ask for recommendations. If the list is short, say 2 to 5 people, then your work is done. These will be the people you ask. If your list is long, group them depending on what recommendation they would be good for. If you're applying to different types of schools or jobs, this is key. Separate them into groups, and then choose the top three in each group, understanding that people may fall into more than one category.

  • The next step is to ask those whose recommendation you desire to write the letters for you. This shouldn't be a quick request. You should take a number of steps to ask them appropriately. First, you should make them aware of your need for letters.

  • When talking in person, you should make it clear that you'd like them to write one for you, but ask them not to answer right away. Explain to them that it's a personal decision and that you will email them the information about the program or job you are applying to.

  • Email the information over soon after you mention your need. Then, give them 2 to 3 days to look over the information before approaching the topic again.

  • They may give you an answer and/or a letter without you even asking for anything else. If you have built a relationship with a teacher, it is usually a no-brainer. However, if you have to ask formally, make sure to do it in person. Ask if they would feel comfortable writing a letter and what an appropriate timeline for receiving it would be.

  • If a teacher or employer who says yes doesn't reply with a letter for you within the time noted, send an email or drop by and remind them. Don't pressure though, as they are doing you a favor.

  • Some individuals prefer to seal up their recommendations and send them themselves. If this is the case, ask if they wouldn't mind keeping a few copies on hand for future use. It is better to ask now than down the line when the file may have been destroyed.

  • If they send your letters to you on paper or in a file format, print out a few copies to keep on file and save the originals.

  • Send out as needed and list the contact information of the individuals who have given you a recommendation on your resume or application, with their approval.

Tips & Warnings

  • Whatever you do, do not do this at the last minute. There is nothing like feeling pressured to do a favor to make a teacher bitter about writing a recommendation. Plus, if it's during school application time, chances are they have quite a few of these to write and may not have time for you at all.
  • Do not ask teachers or employers, unless you are almost certain they will give you a positive review. Remember, they are under no obligation to say nice things, and may do more harm than good if they choose to send the letters themselves.

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