It’s that time of year: The spring semester is winding down so you’re starting to make plans for next summer or the next academic year! Are you applying to graduate school and need a letter of recommendation? Maybe you’re looking for an internship and want a strong letter of recommendation to help you stand out from the crowd?
No matter the reason, the most important thing to remember is that you should be respectful and professional in making your request.
How can I do this?
Check out the following six tips about what you should and shouldn’t do when asking for letters of recommendation.
#1 Do your homework!
Quickly find out what your school, internship, or potential employer requires for a valid letter of recommendation. This information will likely be available on the school’s or company’s website.
Did you know that most schools require letters of recommendation come to them directly from the recommender instead of you mailing in the letter or submitting it with your online application?
There may be a form that your recommender is required to complete and upload as a part of your application. If so, be sure to provide this documentation right away and don’t expect your recommender to do the research for you! If you don’t understand the requirements, ASK! Don’t take a chance that your letter won’t be accepted and your application deemed incomplete.
#2 Ask for a letter of recommendation from someone who knows what you can do.
It’s likely that you’ll be asking professors, supervisors or other professionals for your letters. Choose someone who knows you well. If you need a letter showing why you’re a great fit for a program, then the letter should be written by someone who has actually seen you do well! Graduate schools and employers review tons of these letters so ask someone who can write about your strengths and talents and not just a generic letter. If someone tells you that he/she cannot write you a letter, don’t push it and accept the person’s response.
#3 ASK, don’t assume!
Be sure to ASK if a professor, supervisor, etc. would be willing to write a letter for your graduate school, employment, or internship application.
NEVER assume that an employer or supervisor will be willing to do this for you. Avoid email requests or catching a professor in the hallway after class. You should make a formal request by phone call or scheduling an appointment and asking in person! And don’t forget to ask for permission before listing someone as a reference.
Give individuals at least one month’s notice prior to date that you need your letter. Remember, it’s likely that yours won’t be the only letter that he/she is asked to write. A last minute request reflects poor planning and a lack of consideration for the recommender’s time – these are not qualities that employers or graduate schools are looking for!
#5 Say thank you!
Be gracious and appreciative of the time and effort that an individual has put forth on your behalf. Most people who agree to write letters of recommendation take this responsibility very seriously and will often spend hours on just one letter! Be sure to send a thank you note or email.
#6 Get organized!
Provide background information and supporting materials about the opportunity that you are pursuing. Organize all of the materials that support your request into one package with your name and deadlines clearly identified – don’t waste your recommender’s time by not providing complete information. Once an individual has agreed to write you a letter, you should give him/her the following:
- Name of the individual and/or program to whom the letter should be addressed and the full mailing address.
- Information about the graduate program, job or opportunity – a web link would be helpful or even a copy of the application.
- Information about YOU – your updated resume, transcripts, any assignments that highlight your achievements or illustrate how you will excel in the program, job, internship, etc. If you need a letter that speaks to specific qualities or your potential for success in a particular career field, include a few bullet points about these areas. Don’t be afraid to share with your recommender why this program, internship or job is a good fit for you.
- Any specific forms that the recommender must complete. If you are asked to waive your right to review the letter, it’s a good idea to do so. These letters are often deemed more candid and are taken more seriously because the admissions department expects recommenders to write about students in a well-rounded—and completely honest—way, focusing on both strengths and weaknesses. Recommenders are generally more than willing to share a copy of their letters – just ask.
- If you are applying to more than one program and need multiple letters, bring all of your requests and the corresponding materials at the same time!
- If necessary, include pre-addressed envelopes with proper postage.
Remember that you are establishing yourself as a young professional and preparing to make a transition into the world of work. A big part of doing so involves communicating with and engaging others in a professional and appropriate manner.