How To Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation

By Caitlin Mazur
Oct. 11, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

When you are applying for a new position, it’s common for recruiters or hiring managers to request a letter of recommendation or a reference letter. Depending on the recruiting process for your potential employer, this step can come before, during, or even after you have your first interview.

Employers who ask for a letter of recommendation are looking to get a candid testament to your work, skills, and abilities from people who have worked with you in your past.

Even if not deliberately asked for by your potential employer, letters of recommendation can help you stand out as a potential candidate from the competition and really build your credibility as the candidate they’ve been looking for. Below, we discuss best practices of how to ask a previous employer or colleague for a letter of recommendation that will benefit you in your job search.

Key Takeaways:

  • Make sure to have a list of five to ten people to ask which can include colleagues or managers, professors, or even former colleagues.

  • You want to give your person at least two weeks to write the letter so make sure you plan accordantly.

  • Be polite when asking and remember that sometimes they might say no, that’s why you should have a back up plan.

How To Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation

Who to Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation

This is the first step in ensuring your reference letter will convey exactly what you need to impress your potential employer. You may have worked with a wide variety of colleagues over your past jobs, so it’s a good idea to consider making a list of reference individuals.

  1. Colleagues, managers, or employers that you know best. Choose people you worked closely with, who you believe can adequately speak to your skills and expertise. A letter that is too vague could hurt your chances of getting the job.

  2. Professors or academic advisors. consider the qualifications and the skills your potential employer or hiring manager is looking for. Depending on the work you accomplished in any given area of your career, you can pick and choose which reference might work best for the type of job you are applying for.

  3. Friends and family. Although it might be tempting to choose good friends or even family members for this exercise, it’s best practice to avoid this. Employers may see their opinions or recommendations as heavily biased and overlook your letter of recommendation submission.

  4. Former colleagues. It’s not always an easy thing reaching out to an old colleague after so much time apart. The request for a recommendation is a benefit for you but could mean sacrificing time for someone doing you this favor.

    With that said, using flattery and bringing up team accomplishments can go a long way. Give your old colleague genuine compliments that reference your time spent together and how much you value their opinion. Be careful not to go overboard here, in this case, less is sometimes more.

    Phrase your request politely and acknowledge the commitments your colleague has. Don’t pressure them into providing you a letter of recommendation if it’s something they can’t take on right now. Remember, they’re not obligated to give you a reference letter. Any indication of unrealistic expectations could lead to a half-hearted or bad letter of recommendation. Be sure you give your reference a way to decline if they feel uncomfortable or have other commitments to attend to.

How to Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation

  1. Determine a schedule. It’s generally best practice to give your references at least two weeks’ notice before the letter of recommendation is due. This will give your reference plenty of time to gather their thoughts, ask you questions, and write a great recommendation letter.

  2. Provide the details. To make it easier on the person you’re asking, make sure you compile all of the necessary components they need before they start working on your letter. Empowering your previous colleagues with the specific highlights you’re looking for, along with the potential job description, will help the writer tailor their prose in a way that benefits you.

    This will also make them more likely to approach this project as an easy task rather than a daunting ordeal. Providing context can come from:

    • An up-to-date resume

    • Your current role

    • What job the recommendation is for

    • Why you believe you are qualified

    • Specific projects you believe translate to relevant work skills

    • A due date

  3. Follow up with your references before and after. If your deadline is approaching and you don’t yet have the letter of recommendation in hand, it’s appropriate to reach out to your reference for a reminder. Feel free to reiterate the deadline you must meet as well as asking if there are any additional questions or clarifications you can make to help make their job easier.

    Equally, if not more important, is to remember to send your reference a thank you letter once you receive your recommendation back. Sending appreciation is not just a courtesy, but a way to ensure you maintain the professionalism between you and your previous colleague. You never know when you might need a reference again!

Examples of How to Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation

  1. Example #1:

    Hi Maria,

    I hope you have been well! I am currently applying for the Marketing Manager role at Apple, Inc. The application process requires a letter of recommendation from a former colleague who can speak to my work skills, habits, and achievements. Since we worked on a multitude of projects that led to accomplishments I am immensely proud of, I believe you can help provide an effective and honest letter to the hiring manager on my behalf.

    I hope you will consider writing a letter of recommendation for me that can emphasize the digital marketing skills I learned during the time we worked together. I am hoping you can mention my Marketo skills, nurture campaign efforts, and impressive statistics (attached to this email) we reported on at the end of each year.

    The deadline for submitting this letter is December 3rd. Please let me know if you have prior commitments and are unable to provide a letter by that date. Additionally, please let me know what information I can provide to help make this easier to write the letter.

    Thank you for considering to help me with this task!


  2. Example #2:

    Dear Dr. Becker,

    I am reaching out to you today because I’m applying for the position of Events Director at Nabisco. I’m so excited about this potential opportunity and in order to make the best possible impression, I’d like to pull together a few letters of recommendation.

    I loved the time we spent working together at Apple, Inc. especially on Apple Special Events. I learned so much during our time together and to that end, I thought you’d be the perfect person to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf. I’m hoping you can discuss my expertise in event planning management and my ability to achieve 20% growth on events year over year.

    I know you must be busy with your role at LinkedIn. To make this a little easier, I have included the key requirements of this job, my current position responsibilities, an updated resume, and my key accomplishments at Apple. If there is any additional information I can provide to make this easier, I’d be happy to send them along.

    Please let me know if you are comfortable writing this time of letter on my behalf. I appreciate your consideration!

    Best regards,

Tips For Asking For A Letter Of Recommendation

  • Be polite. When asking your reference, it’s important to ask nicely and be polite. They will be going out of their way to do this for you. Remember that they are under no obligation to give you a letter of recommendation.

  • Have a back up plan. Remember that they don’t have to do this for you, so make sure you have a back up plan incase your person says no. This is why it’s a good idea to have at least five to ten people you can ask.

  • Say thank you. After they send you a letter, make sure you say thank you to them. It only takes a few minutes to send a quick thank you email, but the gesture goes a long way.

  • Proofread your email. Before you send an email or letter asking for a reference, make sure you go over it and look for any errors.

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Caitlin Mazur

Caitlin Mazur is a freelance writer at Zippia. Caitlin is passionate about helping Zippia’s readers land the jobs of their dreams by offering content that discusses job-seeking advice based on experience and extensive research. Caitlin holds a degree in English from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA.

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