For job applications and college applications, it is common to ask a boss or professor for a letter of recommendation. Asking someone to write a letter about you can be very stressful! There are some rules of etiquette that you should always follow. Here are some guidelines for how to ask for a letter of recommendation.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Asking in person vs. asking via email: which is better?
The best way to ask for a letter of recommendation is in person. Ask your boss for a quick meeting or visit your professor during his/her office hours to politely ask for this favor.
There are times when you cannot ask in person (for example, if you moved to a new city.) In this case, a phone call is always acceptable. If you do not know the person’s phone number (some professors do not give their office phone number to students), then an email is fine. In the email, be sure to say that you wish you could ask in person, but cannot because of the circumstances.
What to include when asking for a letter of recommendation
When asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation, be sure to explain why you need the letter and the date when you need the letter. (Be sure to ask at least a month before the date you need the letter to give them time to write it!) The college or job that is asking for the letter might have some special rules (for example, the letter must be on official stationary, or the letter must be the original signed copy). Let your professor or boss know of these requirements.
Imagine that someone asks you to write a letter of recommendation for them. Where would you begin? Even if you know the person, it’s hard to think of the right things to say about them. You also probably don’t know all of the details of the person’s life: where they studied, when they graduated, etc.
For these reasons, it is important to provide information about yourself when asking for a letter of recommendation. Provide the person with your background and also include your educational and career goals.
Language to use when asking for a letter of recommendation
When asking for a letter of recommendation, be sure to use formal language and be very polite and grateful. Here are some useful phrases to use.
- I was wondering if you could please write me a letter of recommendation for . . .
- I’ve been asked to supply a letter of recommendation, and I would like to ask if you’d do me the honor of writing one for me.
- May I please ask you to write a letter of recommendation for me?
- For my __________, I must supply a letter of recommendation. You were the first person I thought of, because . . .
- I would greatly appreciate you doing me the favor of writing me a letter of recommendation. A letter from you would mean a lot, because . . .
- I cannot think of anyone else who I would be more honored to write a letter of recommendation for me.
- If there is anything I can provide you to make writing the letter easier, please let me know.
After receiving the letter of recommendation
Once your professor or boss delivers the letter of recommendation, be sure to thank them! The best way to do so is by sending a card. If this is not something you want to do, then at least send an email confirming that you received the letter of recommendation and thanking them for the letter. When you send this card or email, be sure to say again why you chose them, and why this letter means so much to you. Remind them that this letter is helping you reach your future goals, which is why it means so much to you.
Here are some useful phrases to help you send a card or email.
- I would like to thank you again for writing me a letter of recommendation.
- Thank you again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to write me a letter of recommendation.
- I am so humbled by the words you used to describe me in my recommendation letter. Thank you.
- Words cannot express how grateful I am to you for this favor.
- Because of your time and effort to write this letter, I am one step closer to . . .
Never forget the kindness of others: years later, take the time to write to this person and thank them again. Maybe that letter helped you to get your dream job, or to gain acceptance to the college of your dreams. Take a few minutes to write them and remind them that you have never forgotten their kindness.