A letter of recommendation is a reference letter from a respected person stating that you are a good fit for a particular position. It’s a great extra document to add to your job application packet if you feel it’s a bit too thin. Also, submitting a letter of recommendation can be an explicit employer requirement for some positions (as we’ll explain in this post).
In any case, it’s always nice to have such a reference letter ready. But who should you ask for it and how to approach them? We have you covered! Plus, we also provide some helpful tips on how to write a letter of recommendation (because that letter won’t write itself, eh)!
When Do You Need a Professional Reference Letter
Not every position requires that you provide a letter of recommendation. In general, you’ll need to provide one in the following cases:
- When applying for internships
- To obtain an academic position
- When seeking work as a nanny or other high-trust positions
- To get hired for freelance or contract positions when you are new to the industry
- For apprenticeships or trainee positions
In essence, the goal of this letter is to provide ‘proof’ of your professional abilities and skills from a trusted source. That is unlike a personal reference letter — a document that speaks to your personal qualities and character traits.
Who to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation
The person you ask for a letter of reference should meet the following criteria:
- Have a high standing in the community or your chosen field.
- Be able to vouch for you professionally
- Be willing to write a letter of recommendation for you (and get contacted as a reference)
There are many people in your network that you can ask for a letter of reference. For example:
- Teachers or professors
- Research team leaders
- University department heads
- Former or current employers
- Internship coordinators
- Volunteer program leaders
- Clients and coworkers
- Community leaders
Before you make your pick, consider who is most qualified to recommend you for the position you are pursuing. For example, a mentor who helped you develop new technical skills may be a better choice than an employer at a job where you don’t use those.
Finally, consider your relationship with the person. They should know you well, and you should have a positive relationship with them. It’s also best to consider people who you have communicated with recently.
When to Ask For a Recommendation Letter
You’re more likely to get a ‘yes’ response to your request if you give the other party as much notice as you can. Also, consider asking more than one person in case someone is unable to stand as your reference person.
In some instances, you can ask for a letter even before you apply for a position in your field. It’s totally appropriate to ask for a letter of recommendation when you:
- Graduate from high school or college.
- Finish an internship or apprenticeship.
- Complete service as a volunteer.
- Wrap up a research project or other academic project
How to Frame Your Request
How should you go about requesting that letter? Well, that depends largely on your position and your relationship with the person you’re asking. If you need a letter from someone with whom you only have a formal, professional relationship, submit a written request. Use a polite, business-like tone. Be sure to provide specific details such as:
- The position you’re applying for
- Why you’ve chosen them to write your letter
- Details you would like them to include
- When you need the letter, and where they can send it
If you don’t know the person well, it’s perfectly acceptable to remind them of their connection to you. For example, the head of a large academic department may not know each of the hundreds of students in their program personally. However, they will still write reference letters based on academic performance and graduation status.
Getting a Yes: Use a Letter of Recommendation Template
The best way to ensure that you’ll get the letter you ask for is to make things as easy as possible. Most people are perfectly willing to help if you give them a bit of assistance. You can do this by providing a template that acts as a letter of recommendation sample. It might look something like this:
My name is [Reference Name]. I am [Position Title] at [Organization Name]. I am writing this letter to recommend a recent graduate, [Your Name] for the [Position You Apply To].
I can personally attest that [Name] graduated with honors, worked diligently as a TA, and will most assuredly pass her bar exam once she sits for it. Further, I believe she possesses the following qualities, which make her a perfect choice for this position:
- [Professional quality]
- [Professional project example]
If you have further questions, you may contact me through my office.
Note that the template fills in much of the relevant information that is required. However, it also leaves room for the other party to add any information they wish to include.
To get a letter of recommendation, remember to ask with plenty of notice, provide plenty of details in your request, and offer a template or example. Then, relax! Remember that most people will be quite honored by your request, and happy to help you with your application!