Do’s and Don’ts: How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

Do’s and Don’ts: How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation | Career | Emeritus

A common practice at most organizations before, during, or after an interview is to ask for a letter of recommendation. This is to certify and attest that you are the professional you claim to be. It is considered a true endorsement of your skills, achievements, capabilities, and habits. These letters are not routinely written and handed over to people like an offer letter or an appraisal note. Individuals who need a letter of recommendation need to request one from the right people in the organization. Sometimes, a letter of recommendation can also be requested from a college or university professor. So, wondering how to ask for a letter of recommendation without any hesitation? Read on to find out more!

How to ask for a letter of recommendation?

Depending on the time at hand and proximity, individuals can choose to ask for a letter of recommendation in person or via email. There is no right or wrong method and one isn’t preferred over the other. However, if you have a certain format that needs to be followed, then this must be shared along with your request to save time and effort.

What can you use a letter of recommendation for?

An outstanding letter of recommendation is a definite way to stand apart from the other applicants. Because the writer is personally writing this letter, it carries a lot more weightage and credibility. Most letters of recommendation fall under two categories: employment and academic recommendation letters. For the purpose of this article, we will consider the former category only.

Even individuals applying for an internal job posting, a promotion, a learning/ development program, or a pilot project within the current organization can request a letter of recommendation.

A good letter of recommendation also has the ability to boost confidence and push individuals in the right direction.

5 Tips on getting the best letters of recommendation

Step 1: Choose the right people

When you need a letter of recommendation, it would be ideal to make a list of people you can reach out to for one. Start with superiors – reporting managers, mentors, or team leads – who have worked with you closely. A letter of recommendation must be specific, detailed, and accurate. This is not a simple formality in the interview process. Recruiters and prospective employers are looking for credible endorsements before hiring for their teams. Look for members with enough industry experience, a good and honest reputation, and who know you well enough.

Step 2: Ask nicely and politely how to ask for a letter of recommendation

Nobody owes you a letter of recommendation. In fact, they are doing you a favor by writing one. It is highly recommended that while approaching a senior member for such a letter, it would be best to explain why you chose that person, what you expect in the letter, and how you will be utilizing it. Being polite and professional can go a long way in getting your recommendation letter complete by the due date. Flattery might work in certain situations, but understand your audience before trying this!

Step 3: Ask well in advance

Always remember that time is of the essence, both for you and the person writing the letter. Reach out to them early and give them a reminder if you don’t get your letter of recommendation within the established time. Therefore, two weeks is a good time frame to set, and maybe a reminder ten days into the discussion. It can be time-consuming to write recommendation letters, so be patient if you don’t hear back right away.

Step 4: Provide all the necessary details

Providing all the information in one go will simplify the process for your referee. Share your latest resume, the job description of the new role you are applying for, your cover letter (if applicable), the company details, a list of important projects (with metrics) you completed during your tenure with that employer, and your skills and accomplishments. This will help jog their memory and give them a better understanding of your hard and soft skills too.

Step 5: Always have a Plan B

People are not under any obligation to provide you with a letter of recommendation. Due to pressing commitments, some people on your list might say no. Accept this graciously, thank them for their time, and move on to the next person on your list. Making a list will be very helpful at this point to track and monitor the progress.

Pro tip: Always send a thank you note or email to those who write a recommendation letter for you. This is a good practice and will help build a good reputation for the future too.

Next promotion is a course away

Template for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation Via Email

Note: The below email is also available as a downloadable template here

Email Subject Line: Letter of Recommendation for [Your Name]

Dear Mr./Ms. [Reference’s Full Name]

(If this is a senior member. If it is a colleague or team lead, you could use: Hi [First Name])

How are you doing? I am applying for the role of ___ at ____ [role and company name]. As a part of the application process, I need to provide a letter of recommendation. I would greatly appreciate it if you could write a letter of recommendation for me.

Working [with/under] you at [company name] was a great learning experience for me. I enjoyed collaborating, brainstorming, and learning from you at every stage. I believe you would be the right person to vouch for my skills in [provide 2-3 key skills].

(To jog their memory, you could also add 2-3 important projects you worked on where you exhibited proficiency)

Here are a few other details:

Current role: Fill your exact role here with a 2-3 line description

Current organization: Provide full name and website/LinkedIn

Certifications: Attach with the email, provide links or list them out. Choose the ones most relevant for the role you are applying for and with respect to this person providing the letter

Responsibilities in your prospective role: Full designation and 2-3 line description

Skills: List the most relevant skills, especially the ones the referrer can vouch for

Linkedin profile: <link>

I hope these details are sufficient. If you have any further questions or feedback, please let me know. The deadline for submission is [Date]. I understand that you are busy but your support will help me go a long way in my professional journey. Kindly let me know by [XXX date] if you will be able to write a letter of recommendation for me.

Thank you in advance for your time.


[Full name]

4 Things to Avoid When Asking for a Recommendation Letter

  1. Do not ask for a letter of recommendation with a due date of tomorrow.
  2. Do not ask a family member (even if they are a colleague) to write the letter.
  3. Do not get upset if the person you ask to write the recommendation letter declines.
  4. Do not ask someone to write you a recommendation letter if you have not worked closely with them in the past.

Letter of Recommendation vs Reference Letter

Often recommendation letters and reference letters are used interchangeably. However, the two differ in both style and purpose. A letter of recommendation is provided when individuals are applying for new roles, promotions, or universities. It focuses on the applicant’s capabilities and what would make them the right fit. On the other hand, a reference letter is a general endorsement of an individual’s character, knowledge, and skills, both hard and soft.

In some cases, a letter of recommendation may be sent directly to the prospective employer or university. The applicant does not get to read it or request changes. However, a reference letter is slightly less formal. Applicants can collect and use them whenever they wish to. They can also request tweaks if need be.

Ready to upskill and accelerate your career?

An up-to-date resume and a strong letter of recommendation can go a long way when looking to advance your career. If cracking a job interview and bagging your dream role is on your mind, then upskilling should be there too!

With the right skills and competencies, you can now apply to new-age startups, multinational companies, or even kickstart your own venture. Find the right kind of program only on Emeritus. Choose from over 150+ programs spread across digital transformation, coding, sustainability, cyber security, fashion, and more.

Also, if you are wondering how to write a letter of recommendation for a former employee or colleague then click here to get a step-by-step guide!

By Manasa Ramakrishnan

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About the Author

Content Marketing Manager, Emeritus Blog
Manasa is the content ninja that every brand needs. Apart from being an expert in tech-related trends and digital marketing, she has found her calling in edtech. Her 10-year-long tryst with education started with a teaching fellowship for underprivileged children, followed by a stint as an edupreneur. It gave her the perspective she now uses to create impactful content for Emeritus. Manasa loves the life of a digital nomad that allows her to travel and hopes her reels go viral on the Gram.
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