How to Write Asking for a Letter of Recommendation


Writing to request a letter of recommendation requires some thought and consideration. Michael Ernst, an associate professor at the University of Washington, recommends requesting letters from people who know you well enough to offer interesting stories and anecdotes about you rather than fill the letter with generic praise that that could apply to anyone. It also helps if the letter writer knows about the company you're applying to or understands the industry. That allows the letter writer to more confidently suggest how you would fit into the new role.

  • Plan ahead. Ernst recommends giving letter writers at least two weeks and preferably a month to complete the task. Exceptions are allowable for a sudden job opportunity or an employer who is making a quick decision.

  • Write a letter asking for the recommendation. Use the first paragraph to begin the letter in an upbeat way as you offer an update about something new and interesting in your life, such as your job search or recent marriage. Then mention something upbeat about the prospective letter writer, such as inquiring about a favorite hobby you know she enjoys. Quickly get to the point in the second paragraph by stating the reason for your letter. Tell the person that you are applying for a new job and would like a letter of recommendation.

  • Include a brief description of the job that you are applying for and also note why you are qualified for the position. Include complete address information for sending the letter of recommendation. Proper etiquette allows for sending the letter to you, but it should remain unopened until delivered to the company considering you for the job. Other letters are sent directly to the hiring manager or human resources official. In either case, provide the prospective letter writer with clear addressing information including full name, title, address, city and state.

  • Send request letters to a few more people in case your first choice does not respond. It is acceptable to check back with the prospective letter writer in a week or so to offer a reminder about the task.

Tips & Warnings

  • Some people will ask you to write the letter and have them sign it. Ernst reports that this is acceptable but may result in a letter that is less effective. However, take this option if it is your only choice.

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