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Blog>Guides>How to Ask for (and Get) the Perfect Recommendation Letter

How to Ask for (and Get) the Perfect Recommendation Letter

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Why should an employer believe you when you say you're the best person for the job? Won't everyone else who is applying for the same position say the same thing?

Letters of recommendation help hiring managers double check your statements so they can make the right choice in filling an open position.

Do they work? According to research from the California Policy Lab, they do. In this study, researchers examined college applications with letters and without them. Those with letters had higher scores from review teams compared to those that didn't. If college is like a job, letters clearly make the difference.

Let's dig in to how to get the letter that really helps you to shine.

Who Should Write a Letter for You?

During your career, you've worked with dozens or even hundreds of people. Any of them might have lovely things to say about you and your work, but the voices of your supervisors are the only ones that really matter. Your boss typically reviews your work ethic every year, meaning they assess your workplace habits.

The work habits your boss may assess include:

  • Attendance
  • Performance
  • Interpersonal Relationships
  • Complaints

Your boss has a general idea of whether you're someone another company should hire, which is way a letter from this person holds a lot of weight.

But what if you don't have a good relationship with your boss? Or what if you don't want your supervisor to know you're looking for another job.

person-holding-clipboard

In a pinch, a colleague can craft a letter for you. Make sure this is someone with whom you've collaborated closely. You worked together on a project, served on a committee, handled the same shift, or something similar. You have a detailed history of doing something together that the writer can draw from. It's not ideal, but it could work.

Avoid asking for letters from your office friends. The person you go to coffee with but doesn't know you professionally can't speak to your amazing workplace attributes. Don't waste this person's time or yours with a request that won't help you get hired.

How Should You Ask?

Customization is all the rage in employment these days. People who really want to stand out tweak almost every single part of their application to fit with the job they want. You should use the same approach for your recommendation letters, and that means you should make your request via email.

An ideal recommendation letter contains a great deal of information that's specific to one job with one company. Every detail on that letter must be perfect or your whole application can look slapdash and unprofessional. If you want your writer to do it right, you must supply all of those details. There's just no way to do that over the phone.

You'll have a lot of information to give, but remember to keep it snappy. Marketing Sherpa says most of us keep an email open for about 20 seconds, and that's just a blink of an eye.

Use a catchy email title, such as: "Letter of Recommendation Requested, Due May 8." Your recipient will know there's a date attached to your ask before the email is even open.

In the body of the email, write a greeting about why you want the job and what you're hoping to accomplish. Then write out, in bullet form, what the letter should include. (Don't worry. We'll show you a template shortly.)

What if a few days pass and you don't hear back? It's fine to call and make sure the person both got your email message and is willing to work with you. But keep your follow-up to just one call. If you hit a wall of silence, you're not likely to get what you want, and you should look for a new person to help you.

What Information Should You Give?

Your email message is a writing assignment for your boss, and you'll want it to move as quickly and as smoothly as possible. There are a few key points you absolutely must include in your request.

Those key points include:

  • Your name. Do you use a formal name in applications you don’t use in conversation? Is your name hard to spell? Make sure you write out your full first and last name somewhere in the email.
  • The company details. The name and address of the company should be included in the recommendation letter.
  • The hiring manager's name, if possible. If you know your audience for the letter, your writer can tap out a customized (and effective!) greeting.
  • The position you want. Ideally, you can include a link to the job description. If not, provide the name of the job and a few words about what you'll do each day.
  • Why you want this spot. Inspire the writing with a few words about what makes you perfect for this job.
  • The deadline. Specify when you need the letter back, and tell your writer how to send it to you.

Encourage your writer to contact you with any questions or concerns. And be prepared to hear a firm but polite “no” from some bosses.

two-people-using-laptop

Letters of recommendation have become legal minefields, with companies facing lawsuits for writing letters that either exaggerate or obfuscate. Some companies don't allow anyone to write anything as a result, and people can get fired for breaking the rules. If your ideal writer can't participate, be understanding.

Examples You Can Follow

What will a note like this look like? We’re glad you asked. Here’s a template you can use to write your own request, along with a few examples of what it might look like when put to use.

The Template

Dear [writer's name]:

I've applied for [position] with [company] recently and I'm really excited about this opportunity. I'm hoping you can help me. I need to submit a letter of recommendation, and since we've worked together so closely, I thought you could help and I'd really appreciate it.

Here are the details you'll need to include in the letter:

  • [company name and address]
  • [hiring manager's name]
  • [position wanted]
  • [the skills they're looking for]
  • [deadline]

I've been through [number of interviews] interviews, and I think my chances are really good. I have extensive experience in [field], and as you know from [time together or projects worked on], this is the sort of environment that I thrive in.

Could you write this letter for me? You can send it as an attachment to this email address. If you can't, or if this request makes you uncomfortable, please let me know.


Thanks in advance for your help,
[your full name]

Example 1: To a supervisor

Dear Marsha:

I've applied for the Marketing Director position with Smith Associates recently and I'm so excited. I'm hoping you can help me. I need to submit a letter of recommendation, and since we worked together so closely at Brown Association, I thought you could help and I'd really appreciate it.

Here are the details you'll need to include in the letter:

  • Address it to Jane Doe at Smith Associates, 15151 Avenue Ave, NY, NY
  • Position wanted: Marketing Director
  • The skills they're looking for include social media marketing, print marketing and blogging.
  • Deadline: May 5

I've been through three interviews, and I think my chances are really good. I have extensive experience in marketing. As you know when you managed my work on the Orange Account three years ago, I perform well when dealing with large accounts. I think I'd be an exceptional asset to this company's team.

Could you write this letter for me? You can send it as an attachment to this email address. If you can't, or if this request makes you uncomfortable, please let me know.

Thanks in advance for your help,
Clive Clarence

Example 2: To a coworker

Dear Randy:

I've applied for the Laboratory Technician position with Wood Hospital recently, and I'm so excited. I'm hoping you can help me. I need to submit a letter of recommendation, and since we worked together so closely at Reed Hospital, I thought you could help and I'd really appreciate it.

Here are the details you'll need to include in the letter:

  • Address it to Jane Doe at Wood Hospital, 15151 Avenue Ave, NY, NY
  • Position wanted: Laboratory Technician
  • The skills they're looking for include immunizations, blood panels, phlebotomy and other routine lab experience.
  • Deadline: May 5

I've been through two interviews, and I think my chances are really good. I have extensive experience in lab work, as you know from our time together at the hospital. I think I'd be an exceptional asset to this company's team.

Could you write this letter for me? You can send it as an attachment to this email address. If you can't, or if this request makes you uncomfortable, please let me know.

Thanks in advance for your help,
Clive Clarence

Find the Right Job

Whether you're just starting your first job hunt or you have extensive experience but can't find the right match, we can help. We have hundreds of jobs to search through, including some that don't require letters of recommendation and our system makes searching easy. Get started on Joblist today.

References

The Impact of Letters of Recommendation on UC Berkeley Admissions in the 2016-2017 Cycle. (June 2017). California Policy Lab.

Alarming Research Results: Average Email Open Time Is 15 to 20 Seconds. Recommendations for Emailers. (January 2005). Marketing Sherpa.

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