Asking for a letter of recommendation
Our recommendation? Read these tips and getting your next letter of recommendation will be a breeze.
Asking for a letter of recommendation? Try these tips.
Whether you’re looking for a new job, applying for admission to graduate school or vying for a scholarship, chances are you’re going up against competition—and plenty of it. You need to find a way to stand out. One way to do so is with a strong letter of recommendation.
Of course, the only way to get a letter is to ask for it—the prospect of which likely fills you with dread. What will she say? Will you annoy him with your request? Is there anything you can you offer in return? Worse, what if the boss you thought loved you secretly hated you?
It’s OK to feel nervous, but believe it or not, most people will be happy to write something on your behalf.
“With people who have worked with me in the past, if they ask me for a letter, I am more than willing to write them one,” says Peggy McKee, CEO of Dallas-based Career Confidential. “But If I was happy with them, I would like to do anything I could to help them going forward.”
See, it’s not that difficult! But if you’re still hesitant, use this approach to get the letter of recommendation that you need.
Just pop the question
Yes, it may sound simplistic, but the truth is the way to ask for a letter of recommendation is to ask.
“A lot of students feel anxiety asking for a letter of recommendation; what they should realize is that we get asked all of the time!” says Jessi Franko, an adjunct communications professor at Rider University and Mercer Community College in New Jersey. “They are definitely not the first person to ask and definitely not the last. I get asked to write recommendation letters for current students, former students and even colleagues at least twice a month.”
Rather than apologizing or beating around the bush, ask the question straightforwardly, noting the purpose for which you need the letter and the deadline.
You say: “I’m applying for an internship, and I need to include two letters of recommendation. Would you be willing to write one for me? I’d need it by the 20th."
Suggest some talking points
Don’t just ask, “Can you write me a letter of recommendation?” Be sure to mention what information you’d like the letter to include.
“If somebody is trying to apply for a certain type of job, I would recommend that they try to ask that the reference letter includes specific examples of work that they had done in that field, or specific examples skills and abilities that they have that would be relevant to that field,” says Jill Saverine, senior vice president of human resources for Stamford, Connecticut-based Aircastle.
You say: “Thank you for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I was hoping you could mention the role I played in our big campaign and how my blog post helped increase our company’s site traffic.”
Be prepared to write the letter yourself
Let’s be honest, we’re all busy these days. Someone may be willing to write you a letter of recommendation, but feel crunched for time. If that happens, they might ask that you write the letter for them. This is OK. They’ve still offered to help you and you have your signed letter of recommendation. It’s a win-win!
Need help writing it? Use our sample recommendation letter template.
“Put together a few statements about what you’ve done, what you can do and some of the best things that you did while you worked there, maybe mention a particular story about something,” McKee says. “Send it to them, let them choose what they want to pick and keep and put their little signature at the bottom and you’re done!”
You say: “I know this is a busy time of year for you. If you don’t have time to write it, perhaps I could write something for you to review and if it looks all right, you could sign it?”
Once you have the letter, do this next
A strong recommendation letter is an excellent counterpart to your resume. But neither will do you any good just sitting on your computer. Want to put them to good use? Join Monster today. As a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—all tailored to different jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Pull them in with the resume, and use your recommendation letter to seal the deal.
Sample: Cover Letter Based on a Referral
|Michael Ram, MSW, LCSW, C-ACYFSW|
525 Tops Road
March 8, 2009
Ahmad Abu-Taa, MSW, LCSW, ACSW
Social Work Department
St. Mary’s Treatment Center
854 Bell Road
Dallas, Texas 66524
Dear Mr. Abu-Taa:
Suzanne Patel, Director of the Family Center in Chicago, suggested that I contact you regarding your opening for a social worker in day treatment. I am currently working at the Family Center where Ms. Patel is my supervisor, but in May, I will be returning to Dallas where I used to live. I’m looking for opportunities to work with at-risk youth and families and would like to be considered for the position.
In addition to holding an MSW degree, I have training and experience in day treatment, pediatric social work, and women’s and children’s services. At the day treatment program for the Family Center in Chicago, I have spent the past five years working in a culturally diverse setting, handling assessments, participating in treatment delivery, and providing therapy for at-risk youth and their families. Prior to this, I was Volunteer Service and Children’s Program Coordinator for the Women’s Shelter in Dallas
Ms. Patel highly recommended the Day Treatment Center and said she believes my skills and background make me an excellent fit for the organization. It is also my understanding that your staff has initiated several programs that are considered models for working with culturally diverse populations. I am committed to working with culturally and underserved populations and welcome the opportunity to do so at St. Mary’s Treatment Center.
Enclosed is my résumé for your review. I will call your office within the next week to schedule an interview. If you prefer to contact me, I can be reached at 863-767-2498 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your consideration.
Michael Ram, MSW, LCSW, C-ACYFSW
Copyrighted material reprinted with permission from the NASW Press.
The Social Work Career Development: A Handbook for Job Hunting and Career Planning book is available through the NASW Press.