Note: This post was written in collaboration with Sarah Zaferis who has been with Cardinal Group Management since November 2014, overseeing Logan & Chamberlain – a modern apartment complex in North Carolina located just steps from North Carolina State University.
At some point in your career, you will be asking for a letter of recommendation.
Physical letters are not as common as they used to be, but many would-be employers still use letters of recommendation as a critical final vetting step in the hiring process.
If the idea of asking someone to vouch for your skills and achievements makes you nervous, don’t worry—it’s nerve-wracking for everyone.
If you approach asking for a letter of recommendation in a timely and strategic way, you shouldn’t have any issues. In no time at all, you’ll have some excellent recommendation letters that impress the socks off of potential employers.
And if you need some direction in your career, that’s precisely why I wrote my book Why Career Advice Sucks® … to share the stories of my own career success and failures and help you grow your career more quickly.
Which Section Do You Want to Read First?
6 Killer Steps To Asking for that Rockstar Recommendation Letter
Whether we have received one before or not, we all have dreams of landing that rockstar letter of recommendation, don’t we?
1. Don’t Dawdle, Start Early
Don’t wait until the last minute to ask for a recommendation letter, so be sure to plan ahead of time. It shows that you are respectful of other people’s time. You consider yours valuable so let’s treat others the way we want to be treated.
Start the process at least two months in advance. Ideally, your past employer or whoever else is writing the recommendation should have ample time.
As soon as you start applying for jobs, it’s a good idea to give them a heads up. If they say to yes to writing one for you, they’ll need plenty of time to prepare.
Even better, ask for a letter of recommendation as soon as you leave a job (assuming you left on good terms). Even if you have no immediate need for the letter, it is something you can file away until the times come.
That way, you won’t have to rush around when the need arises…
2. Vet Your Recommenders Carefully
Before asking anyone for a letter, think about who is likely to give you a stellar review. It’s a given that you should only consider people who like you, but it’s worth remembering that maybe only certain people will say glowing things about you.
In addition to asking people who think fondly of you, also think about who will impress your potential employer.
For example, if you recently worked in customer service but now are applying for an executive assistant position, asking your past supervisor might not be the strongest recommendation. If you had a boss in a similar field or job, he or she would be a better fit to ask for a review.
Remember, the person doesn’t have to be a former boss. It can also be a colleague/peer or someone you worked with on volunteer projects.
As long as they can vouch for your skills and write persuasively, you should be all set.
3. Don’t Ask if They Will Write a Letter, Ask When They Would
Never assume that your past employer or colleague will write you a letter. Instead, it’s best to ask them if they’d be willing to write a favorable recommendation letter showcasing your skills.
If you’re just getting into the career world, you can ask a professor, but keep in mind that if your class was large, he or she might not remember you. If you ask, be sure to give them an “out” so they can politely say no without feeling pressured.
Not everyone will remember you, and that’s okay. Just think outside the box and ask someone with whom you have a good relationship.
Someone who knows you well is more likely to say yes to writing a letter for you and write an excellent review.
4. Prepare to Write Your Own Templated Letter
Let’s be honest; everyone is busy. You may have someone who wants to write a letter of recommendation but doesn’t have enough time.
If a person is too busy to write a letter, they may ask you to write it for them. Don’t panic – this is OK. This is actually good news because they still want to help you, and you will have a signed letter of recommendation.
Talk about a win-win!
If you think any recommenders might ask you to write the letters for them, start writing some notes about yourself and position. Here are a few ways to do that:
- Think of it from an outsider’s perspective. How would they write a recommendation for you and what might they say?
- Put together a few paragraphs about what you did and what some of the best projects you worked on while you worked there.
- Write a few stories about your time there. Give them the option to pick and choose what they want to keep.
Remember, if you write your own letter, the recommender still gets the final say. Always give them your written letter and allow them to edit it as they see fit.
5. Try Multiple Approaches, Not Just Email
Everyone communicates differently, so make sure to cater to your potential recommender’s tendencies before making the ask.
- If you are asking a boss for a letter of recommendation who is very outgoing, it might make sense to ask them in person over a cup of coffee of lunch.
- If face-to-face isn’t an option due to distance or some other restrictions, try a phone call. It might seem a little old fashioned, but many people still prefer talking over text or email.
- Writing an email asking for a letter of recommendation can be a good idea if the person is a little shyer, or if you anticipate that they will need time to contemplate their response.
The key is to make it about them, not you. Adapt your style to theirs, not the other way around. Remember that you are asking them for a favor.
The important thing to remember here is that everyone is different. What works for one person might not work for another. So put yourself in the shoes of the person you are asking and plan your approach accordingly.
6. Send Them a Formal “Thank You” Note
Before and after receiving your recommendation letter, express your sincere gratitude. In addition to saying thank you, here are a few other ways to convey your appreciation:
- Send them a gift. It could be as simple as a gift card or a bottle of wine.
- Take them to coffee.
- Offer to return the favor or write a recommendation on LinkedIn.
Whatever you do, make it something formal. An email is ok but doesn’t show as much appreciation as a letter, gift, or return favor.
If you do happen to get the job, reach out to your references and tell them the good news!
It’s exciting for a past employer, professor, or colleague to know you got a new job and are doing well. So don’t forget to reach out to them and let them know you got the job you wanted.
5 Asking for a Letter of Recommendation Samples/Templates
Not sure where to start?
Try one of these 5 sample templates to get you started:
Sample 1: Boilerplate Template for Any Occasion
Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. [Last Name],
It’s my absolute pleasure to recommend [Name] for [position] with [Company].
[Name] and I [relationship] at [Company] for [length of time].
I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with [Name], and came to know [him/her] as a truly valuable asset to absolutely any team. [He/she] is honest, dependable, and incredibly hard-working. Beyond that, [he/she] is an impressive [soft skill] who is always [result].
[His/her] knowledge of [specific subject] and expertise in [specific subject] was a huge advantage to our entire office. [He/she] put this skillset to work in order to [specific achievement].
Along with [his/her] undeniable talent, [Name] has always been an absolute joy to work with. [He/she] is a true team player, and always manages to foster positive discussions and bring the best out of other employees.
Without a doubt, I confidently recommend [Name] to join your team at [Company]. As a dedicated and knowledgeable employee and an all-around great person, I know that [he/she] will be a beneficial addition to your organization.
Please feel free to contact me at [your contact information] should you like to discuss [Name]’s qualifications and experience further. I’d be happy to expand on my recommendation.
Sample 2: Ready for Personalization
Here is a similar template from Indeed. You can’t really go wrong with this example, and we especially like how it allows for a full paragraph for a personal story:
To Whom it May Concern:
It is my pleasure to strongly recommend [Applicant Name] for [Position With Company or Acceptance to Institution].
I am [Your Name], a [Your Position] at [Your Institution or Company]. I have [Number] years of experience working in [Your Industry or Academic Focus], and have seen many young professionals come and go. [Applicant Name] is one individual I have worked with who uniquely stands out.
During our time together, [Applicant Name] displayed great talents in [Skill, Trait, Experience, Class, etc.]. When we first met, I was immediately impressed with [Applicant’s Name], but during the time worked together, her understanding of [Key Topic] grew far more than that of her peers.
[Insert Personal Story Elaborating on Key Skills, Trait, Experience].
It’s not just her technical skills that impress me, however. [Applicant Name] was a joy to work with because of her amazingly positive attitude and [Positive Trait]. Her [Positive Trait] and [Positive Trait] were also necessary and valued not just by myself, but by her peers, who often relied on her to get the job done.
I am absolutely confident that [Applicant Name] would be a great fit for your [Institution/Company]. Not only will she bring the kind of skills and experiences you’re looking for in an applicant, she will quickly become an asset and help your [Institution/Company] grow in any way she can.
If you need more information or specific examples, please do not hesitate to contact me at [Contact Information]. As a recommendation letter likely only provides a snapshot of her talents and achievements, I would be happy to further elaborate on my time working with her.
[Your Name, Company, and Title]
Sample 3: Letter of Recommendation for Students
Letters of recommendations for high school students looking to get into college should be handled a little bit differently. This example from Resume Genius is a great start:
Sample 4: Short & Sweet
If you’re looking to keep your letter of recommendation short and sweet, here is a simple example from Better Team:
Dear [Mr./Mrs./Ms./To Whom it May Concern],
I am writing to recommend [full name of person you’re recommending] for [what you’re recommending them for].
I have known [person you’re recommending] since [date] as [capacity in which you’ve known the person, i.e. “good friend,” “co-worker,” etc.].
I have always known [person you’re recommending] to be [qualities the person has, such as “honest,” “loyal,” “hard-working”].
Based on our experience together, I can confidently recommend [person you’re recommending] for [thing you’re recommending them for].
[Your Name + Signature]
Sample 5: For the Working Class Hero
Our final sample is from the folks over at eforms. This example is for a chef position and does a great job of providing detailed descriptions of obstacles overcome and in-depth experience.
It also shows a little bit of personality to spice things up (no pun intended).
I’m writing in support of [name]’s application for the available [position] at [restaurant name]. I’ve had many cooks come and go during my [# of years] years as a supervisor here at [restaurant name] but Mr. [name] stands out as one of our most valuable employees to date.
I hired [name] in [year] and, although he had no previous experience, he quickly learned the methods and techniques. He’s efficient, organized, a great team player and an amazing multitasker. He brings immense energy to the kitchen and keeps the atmosphere positive.
We have quite a revolving door of kitchen staff, but [name] has been very loyal and trustworthy. I’ve had a few occasions where a cook doesn’t show up, but [name] has always come to my rescue. He also helps train the new guys, making sure they are comfortable in our kitchen environment.
I strongly encourage you to consider [name] as a cook in your fine establishment. He is motivated, creative, and has a keen eye for detail. I am sad to see him go but am convinced he will bring the same enthusiasm to his next job. You can call me at [contact information] if you have any further questions.
Successfully Asking for Recommendations is a Skill Refined Over Time
No doubt asking for recommendation letters can be intimidating, but after completing the task successfully, you’ll feel relieved.Letters of recommendation are an important part of any career search, and you should always have a few in your back pocket ready for deployment. Most people are more than willing to help out a hardworking employee looking to advance their career, but asking is the hardest part.
The more you ask for letters, the easier it will become. It’s a skill that you’ll need to develop as you advance in your career.Just remember:
- start early
- be respectful
- and make it as easy as possible for the recommender
If we’ve missed any steps, samples or templates, please leave your comments below. We’d love to hear from you.