How To Ask For Professional Recommendations

Written by Sara Holsing, Class of 2020

An important item that you will need to open more doors of opportunities are letters of recommendation. These letters can be required for many things like internships, jobs, and graduate school. But what do you need to get a great letter of recommendation? Here are some best practices to make sure that you get the letter of recommendation that you want:

1. Know your deadlines & give ample time before asking

First of all, it is important that you know your deadlines for your application. By knowing these, you can stay ahead of the game and also set a deadline for when you need your letter by. A safe buffer of time for your reference to write their letter is about 5-6 weeks. Keep this in mind when asking so you have enough time to receive your letter, gather your other materials, and submit your application.

2. Choose someone that knows you & can speak well about you

Are you seeking a letter for an internship, job, or graduate school? Based on what you are applying for, you want to choose the appropriate reference for the letter. Your basketball coach may not understand how well you did in your chemistry classes when you’re seeking a chemistry research intern position, so they might not be the best candidate to attest to your research skills. If you need a letter of recommendation for graduate school, you should pick a professor that you have had for a class, that you have a relationship with, or that you have worked with before on projects. Lastly, make sure that this person can speak highly of you. Picking the right person to write your letter is really important!

3. Outline why you chose them & give them the freedom to decline

When you have picked who might be a good candidate to write your letter, identify the reasons why you picked them. You will need this for when you formally ask for a reference. You can request your letter of recommendation in person or through an email. For both methods, identifying reasons for why you picked them can help you figure out if they are the best candidate for writing your letter. Do they know you well? Can they speak to your skills? This also helps the writer understand why you picked them and their connection to you. When you have identified these reasons, give them room in your request to decline. They might say no for a number of reasons, but it is important to give them that choice (and to have back-up plans in case they do say no).

4. Collect materials that will help the writer

To best assist your reference, gather all of the information that will help them write your letter. If you are applying for an internship or job, you should provide them with a description of the position so they can try to support how and why you would be a great candidate for it. If it is for graduate school, give them copies of your academic transcript, examples of your past projects or assignments relevant to your pursued field of study, and a description of the program you are applying for.

5. When you receive the letter, write a note of thanks!

After you’ve received your letter, show your appreciation by writing your reference a thank you note! If you cannot write a physical note, you should email them a thank you note instead.

Elizabethtown College