There’s no greater proof of your level of skill and attitude than to have someone at a higher position do the talking for you.
A recommendation supports your application for both educational programs and a new job position. In either case, you’ll have to know how to ask for a letter of recommendation from your professors or managers.
And you usually only have one shot of making the ask. So, you need to make sure it’s perfect the first time around!
In this complete guide, we’ll go through the best way to request a recommendation letter. We’ve also included example scenarios and emails so you know exactly what to say to maximize your chances of getting a yes.
What Is a Letter of Recommendation?
A letter of recommendation is a formal document written by someone who can vouch for your skills and qualifications. This supports your application for a job, school, or scholarship.
Having someone recommend you is a powerful way to showcase your abilities. For both professional and academic settings, a letter of recommendation can increase your chances of a successful application.
Typically, a letter of recommendation is written by someone who has had firsthand experience observing or working with you.
The Difference Between a Letter of Recommendation and a Job Reference Letter
A letter of recommendation is from someone recommending you for a particular opportunity, while a job reference letter is more general.
- Content: Letters of recommendation highlight specific strengths, abilities, and achievements. Job references provide an overview of your professional skills and experience.
- Audience: A letter of recommendation addresses a specific person or organization, whereas a job reference letter is usually for a range of job opportunities.
Both are still forms of proof of your character and skills. Moreover, a recommendation letter and reference don’t belong on a resume.
When to Use a Recommendation Letter and Job Reference
Use a letter of recommendation when:
- It’s an essential part of the application process for a specific job or academic program
- You want to highlight your skills and experience in a particular field or industry
Use a job reference when:
- Your employers ask you for them
- To verify your work experience for a job application
Why You Should Get a Letter of Recommendation
The short answer is to stand out from other applicants and increase your chances of success.
Hearing positive things about someone from another professional with a credible work history is pretty compelling. It’s almost the same as word of mouth—you’re more likely to take an interest in something when other people suggest it.
A recommendation letter is effective because a prospective employer or institution will get insight into your background from a respected individual.
The more credible the person giving you a recommendation letter, the more it works in your favor in showing you’re a highly capable person.
Here are the benefits summed up:
- Strengthen your job application for competitive roles by having a professional who can vouch for your level of skill
- Gain admission to competitive schools or programs as recommendations can be a requirement for the application process
- Boost your chances of securing scholarships or financing by having a professional advocate for you
Who Can You Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?
The best people to ask for letters of recommendation are people with professional experience.
Ideally, they’re people who are more senior to you and know you well enough to share specific examples of your academic or professional achievements. They can attest to your skills, knowledge, and character.
Here are the types of people to consider asking:
- Volunteering or Community Leaders
Friends and family are the only types of people you shouldn’t add to your hit list of potential recommenders. Sure, they might have a lot of nice things to say about you but they can be biased.
Hence, a recommendation from friends or family isn’t as trustworthy when it comes to helping an employer get a fair assessment of your abilities.
How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
Once you have a list of people to ask, follow these steps:
- Find some 1:1 time to talk
- Give context about your situation
- Ask directly for a recommendation
- Don’t make them feel trapped
- Be clear on what you need
- Follow up with an email
- Mention any revisions you’d like to make
- Show appreciation
Make your request direct and clear so the person knows exactly what you want. Hiding behind the curtain when asking for any favor will only make your request unclear and show a lack of confidence.
1. Find Some 1:1 Time to Talk
The best time to catch your potential recommender is when they’re alone and have a few minutes to spare for a quick conversation.
Asking for a favor in person is much preferable than over an email.
Most people’s emails, especially your seniors, are flooded with promos and all sorts of messages. Your chances of getting noticed or a reply by email are far less than if you were to make the approach face-to-face.
Here are a few ideal scenarios of when to approach:
- After a successful project where you’ve achieved a significant milestone
- During a scheduled 1:1 check-in meeting after getting positive feedback
- At the end of class, once all students have left the room
If you’re a former employee or student and finding 1:1 time to talk in person isn’t an option, you can skip ahead of this guide to the section where we discuss how to write an email requesting a recommendation.
2. Give Context About Your Situation
The person you’re asking is another human, not a tool. What we’re getting at here is to not approach and immediately ask for a recommendation letter because you somehow deserve it.
Instead, show acknowledgment and then build up your request without wasting their time by sharing some context about your situation:
- Mention what you’ve been up to lately, like having just completed your resume for an internship
- Give a specific compliment on something that they’ve done for the day or in general
- Share a goal that you’re working towards
Here’s an example:
Hi Bob, your presentation earlier today was lovely. It was exciting to me as I’m looking to apply for [Job Position or Course] at [Company or Institution]. That said, I thought I’d let you know that I’m currently making an application and I was wondering if…
3. Ask Directly for a Recommendation
Now that you’ve built up your request, it’s time to ask.
You can make a request upfront. Or, you could go for a more friendly approach by asking them almost open-endedly, e.g. “I was wondering if you would be willing to write me a recommendation letter to support my application.”
Here are a few more examples of ways to ask for a recommendation upfront:
- Would you be open to writing me a detailed letter of recommendation?
- I’m currently applying for [Job Position or Course] at [Company or Institution], and I believe your support in writing me a recommendation letter would be invaluable. Would you be open to this?
- Your input means a lot, so I was hoping you could write a letter of recommendation for me.
4. Don’t Make Them Feel Trapped
Giving someone a way out whenever asking for something reduces pressure, guilt, and feelings of obligation. This is key for maintaining a positive relationship so it doesn’t feel too awkward the next time you ask for a favor.
Removing feelings of obligation also makes it clear you’re respectful of their time. And generally speaking, empathy goes a long way.
Here are a few examples of what you could say:
- I completely understand if this isn't something you can take on right now. Your honesty is important to me, and I value our relationship regardless of the outcome
- If not, no worries, I completely understand
- I completely understand if this isn’t doable right now, but either way, I really appreciate your consideration
- I completely understand that you have a lot on your plate right now, so no worries if not but I thought it’d be worth shooting my shot
- If now’s not the best time and you would prefer me to ask at a later date, please let me know
5. Be Clear On What You Need
Make the process as simple as going from point A to point B.
Have everything prepared so that it’s easy for the recommender to do what you want them to do. Make sure you have everything they need to help them write the letter of recommendation, such as the following:
- Cover letter
- A list of professional skills or experience you want them to highlight
- An outline for the letter to minimize thinking time
- Specific details about the opportunity that are relevant
Simplify the entire process as much as you can and be helpful. Don’t make them have to figure things out too much.
6. Follow Up With an Email
There’s no harm in giving your recommender a little nudge on the shoulder about your request, the same way as you would after an interview.
People can easily overlook things since life gets busy. Sending a friendly reminder can help them stay on top of your request and ensure it’s completed before the deadline.
On that note, if you haven’t mentioned the deadline already, your follow-up email allows you to do so. You can also clarify any further details that may help in writing a stronger letter such as relevant certifications, accomplishments, or skills that you’ve developed.
7. Make Revision Requests if Necessary
Happy with the first draft and everything’s good to go? Well, that’s the ideal outcome.
The first version they’ll send you is usually more than good enough to use for your application. If you’re not completely satisfied with it, you can politely request the revisions you’d like your recommender to make to improve the letter.
However, your recommendation letter is an honest outlook on your skills and character. So, only ask for up to one round of revisions without going overboard by pointing out every tiny detail.
8. Show Appreciation
Once everything’s done and dusted, genuinely thank your recommender for their time.
Remember, they didn’t need to write a letter for you. It was a decision they made and did in their spare time.
Whether it’s a teacher, client, or manager, they’re not compensated for doing you such a favor.
Make your appreciation and understanding clear. Send them a message thanking them for their support and emphasize how much their contribution means to you.
You can even take it a step further by sending them a personal gift or a handwritten thank you note. Other ways of giving thanks include reciprocating their kindness by doing things like sharing a few helpful resources or helping out with a project.
Example Dialogue 1: Asking Your Manager for a Recommendation
In this example dialogue, Chris is your manager.
You: Hey Chris, I hope you’re not too busy. Do you have a moment?
Chris: Of course, what's up?
You: Well, I've spent some time thinking about my career development and I thought you’d be the best person to approach for this, so I was wondering if I could ask you for a favor.
Chris: Sure. What is it?
You: I was wondering if you would be open to writing me a recommendation letter. Your insights on my skills and experience mean a lot and I would appreciate your support in my career growth.
Chris: No problem, I'd be more than happy to help. Can you tell me a bit more about the opportunity and what you'd like me to highlight in the letter? (This is the ideal scenario where they ask you what you want them to highlight but may not always happen.)
You: Yes, absolutely. It's [briefly describe opportunity]. I think it would be great if you could highlight [mention key skills or achievements]. I can also share some more details and send you a copy of my resume over email.
Chris: Sounds good. Please feel free to send me an email with the additional information and I’ll do my best to write you a strong letter of recommendation by the end of this week.
You: Thank you so much, Chris. I really appreciate your support.
Chris: No worries, I’m here to help you succeed. I’ve always been impressed with your work ethic and how organized you are.
You: I’m really happy to hear that, Chris. Thanks again!
Example Dialogue 2: Asking Your Teacher or Professor for a Recommendation
Student: Hi Professor, do you have a moment?
Professor: Of course, what can I do for you?
Student: I was looking back at what you said a few days ago in your career advice presentation about [specific topic] and it made me realize the direction I want to take as a professional. So, I was hoping I could ask you for a favor if you’d be open to it?
Professor: I’d be happy to help in any way I can. What is it? (Ideally, your teacher or professor shows no sign of friction when making the ask.)
Student: I’m looking to apply to [Job Position/Program] at [Company/Institution] and I wanted to ask if you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation to support my application.
Professor: Interesting. Would you mind telling me a bit more?
Student: Sure, they’re in the field of environmental science, and they’re looking for candidates with strong research and analytical skills. Seeing that you have firsthand experience with my abilities since you saw how I did in our [Name of Project] research project, I’m confident that your insights would make for a solid recommendation.
Professor: I see. Well, I have been impressed with your dedication to the research project. I’d be happy to help.
Student: Great, I’m really happy to hear that! I can also send you an email with a copy of my resume and an outline of the recommendation letter in case that would help.
Professor: That would be great. Please send it over and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Student: Thank you so much, Professor. I really appreciate your teachings and support.
Professor: You're welcome. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help.
Student: For sure, thanks again. Have a lovely day!
Professor: You too!
How to Increase Your Chances of Getting a Yes
The best way to increase your chances of getting people to agree to your request is by doing the following:
- Make sure you have a positive relationship
- Strike when the timing is right
- Ask twice the amount of time before your deadline
- Make the process as easy as possible
- Show sincerity by personalizing your message
In summary, it’s all about respecting the other person’s time throughout the entire process and personalizing your message.
Make Sure You Have a Positive Relationship
The people you ask for a recommendation should be those you have a positive relationship with. If you don’t get along well, the odds are against you. For instance, your chances of getting a yes from your professor in education are low when you always sleep in their class.
Or if you haven’t had enough time to get to know each other, they’re more likely to shoot down your request simply because they don’t know about you well enough.
Ideally, you’ll have known each other for a few months or the past academic year. This is also important for clarifying to them why you believe that they’re the right person to write you a recommendation letter.
Strike When the Timing Is Right
Have some social awareness because the people you’re asking are people, too. This means not requesting at certain times like the following:
- You messed up the other day at work and haven’t made up for it
- In the middle of class or an extracurricular activity
- During lunch break while they’re in the middle of munching food
- They have a busy schedule with limited availability, and they’re visibly stressed
It’s not your best bet to ask if even the person is not in the brightest mood.
Be mindful of the potential recommender’s workload and availability. Making the ask during busy periods will only get lost in the shuffle.
Ask Twice the Amount of Time Before Your Deadline
If you’re a student, asking way ahead of time will impress your teacher with how organized you are.
The worst thing you could do is add pressure by pushing deadlines. Avoid last-minute requests.
Respect your recommender by giving them plenty of time for preparation. It’s on you if you don’t give them ample time and notice to complete your letter before your application deadline.
Make the Process as Easy as Possible
You’re already asking someone to take some time out of their day to do you a favor.
Don’t make them have to use up more of their time figuring out how to do what you’re asking them to do. At some point, they might even just give up because it’s not worth the hassle or effort.
That said, be organized and have everything you need for them ready.
Give them a copy of any helpful resources such as your resume and cover letter. And feel free to share an outline of a recommendation letter structure they can follow so that it’s easier on their end to fulfill your request.
Show Sincerity by Personalizing Your Message
It obviously means a lot to you when you have someone’s support. Equally, it means something to them when they know they can help you out and make a positive impact.
But it also means a lot to your recommenders when you show you’re thoughtful of them.
Your potential recommendation letter writers aren’t like a water fountain you go to only when you’re thirsty and need a drink. They’re people with feelings and a willingness to do things.
In other words, there are things that do and don’t appeal to them. If you know what these things are, use them to your advantage by personalizing your message. This also helps strengthen your relationship.
Here are a few example strategies:
- Gift your recommender a show of thanks, such as an Amazon gift card or their favorite coffee
- Cater to the person’s ego by highlighting their expertise and why you believe they’re the best person you could possibly ask
- Do research into their professional background and mention specific career achievements you’re inspired by to show you’re genuinely interested in them
How to Write an Email Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
Here are the steps to asking for a recommendation over email:
- Write a concise email subject line
- Address the recipient professionally
- Show acknowledgment
- Make a direct formal request
- Highlight why you believe they’re the right person
- Explain what you need
- Thank your recipient
- Formal closing
There’s a high probability that the person you’re reaching out to has a packed schedule with lots of different things going on in his/her mind. It shouldn’t have to feel exhausting to try to understand what your email is about.
Write a Concise Email Subject Line
All the email subject line really needs to include is the fact it’s about your letter of recommendation. Besides that, you could mention your name so the recipient knows immediately who the email is coming from.
Here are some examples of strong subject lines:
- Request for Letter of Recommendation: [Your Name]
- About My Recommendation Letter Request
- Letter of Recommendation: Please See Details Attached
- Formal Recommendation Letter Request
- Important Request: Letter of Recommendation
- Request for Letter of Recommendation
- Recommendation Letter Request
Address the Recipient Professionally
Greet the recipient of your email professionally because you’re making a formal written request for a recommendation.
Use one of the following opening salutations:
- Dear [Name]
- Hello [Name]
- Hi [Name]
- Good afternoon [Name]
However, never use the recipient’s first name when emailing a teacher or professor. Use their last name, e.g. “Dear Ms. Middleton” and “Hi Ms. Middleton.”
Add a personal touch to your email by acknowledging the recipient. This step is especially important if you didn’t have the chance to speak to them beforehand in an online meeting or face-to-face.
With that in mind, there are three ways to show acknowledgment: formal, casual, and personal.
- I hope this email finds you well.
- I hope you are doing well.
- I hope you’re having a great day.
- I hope your week is off to a great start.
- Thanks for taking the time to speak with me the other day.
- I hope you’re doing well. I want to keep this email short as I'm aware you must be busy with [upcoming event or project].
If it’s been a long time since you’ve last been in touch, you can use one of the opening lines below:
- I am reaching out to you as a former employee of [Company Name], where I worked under your supervision as a [Job Title].
- I hope this email finds you well. My name is Jeff and I was a student in your [Course Name] class [Semester and Year] at [Institution].
Make a Direct Formal Request
Explain the purpose of your email by getting straight to the point with a formal request.
Be direct and specific about what you’re asking for. Hiding from the main purpose of reaching out will only make your request less agreeable if you’re not making it clear what you’re after.
Here are some examples of making a formal request via email:
- I am writing to request a letter of recommendation in support of my application to [Job Position or Course] at [Company or Institution].
- I am reaching out to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation to help me in my application for the [Job Position or Course] at [Company or Institution].
- Are you open to writing a letter of recommendation to support my application for the [Job Position or Course] at [Company or Institution]?
Highlight Why You Believe They’re the Right Person
Nothing wrong with giving the recommender flowers. Compliments and shameless flattery go a long way for a few reasons:
- Proof that you’ve put thought into your decision and that you’re not just sending out random requests
- Jog the person’s memory by gently reminding them of your interaction in case they forgot
- Make the person you’re asking feel valued and appreciated, hence making them more likely to say yes
Bring up specific instances where the person has helped you in your academic or professional career. Or take it a step further by mentioning specific career highlights or accomplishments from their professional background.
Explain What You Need
Be clear and concise with what you want your recipient to do.
Guide the recipient through what you want them to do by outlining the steps for them. Make their life easier by being transparent with the details to fulfill your request. Include any particular coursework or projects that you want them to highlight.
Here are some examples:
- I would be grateful if you could write a standard letter of recommendation highlighting my skills and experience in [Industry/Field].
- Please feel free to use the recommendation letter outline attached to this email to assist with the writing process.
- I would appreciate it if you could complete the attached recommendation form and submit it by [Date].
Thank Your Recipient
After all has been said (and soon to be done), thank the recipient for their time and consideration. Leave a lasting impression by showing courtesy and that you genuinely value their input and support.
Here are some examples:
- Thank you for your time and consideration.
- Your time and expertise is greatly appreciated.
- I would be greatly honored if you would accept my request to write a recommendation letter to support my application.
- Thank you once again for taking the time to consider my request.
Finally, end your email by writing a formal closing followed by your full name.
You can also drop your contact details and personal information so the recommender knows how to get in touch.
Here are your best options for a formal email closing:
- Best regards,
5 Email Examples Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
The best email example shows that you’ve put thought into your decision to reach out. With that in mind, feel free to use any of the following email templates to request an effective recommendation letter.
Manager or Supervisor
Past or Current Client
Teacher or Professor
How to Follow Up When You Get No Response
Wait at least three days before sending a follow-up email.
In most cases, the people you’re asking have a busy schedule. They might or might not have seen your initial message. Some may have simply forgotten to respond and get back to you, so a friendly reminder does the trick.
If you still haven’t heard back after at least three follow-up emails, it’s best to move on and pour your efforts elsewhere.
Email Follow-up Example 1
Email Follow-up Example 2
Email Follow-up Example 3
How to Reply After a Positive or Negative Response
If you get a reply, you’re usually in one of two scenarios:
- You get a positive response with a recommendation letter attached
- You received a negative response declining your request
Below, we’ll go through how to reply in either situation with examples.
Scenario 1: Positive Reply With a Recommendation Letter Attached
Kudos to you if your recommender gets back to you with a letter attached!
Now, there are two ways to reply:
- Send a sincere thank-you note for their support
- Request for revisions
From there, keep them updated with your application process. If you ultimately succeed and land the position, let them know how they contributed to your success.
Email Response Example
Scenario 2: Negative Reply Declining Your Request
Unlucky. There are all sorts of reasons someone would decline your request.
Regardless, the only way to respond in this situation is to message back graciously and thank them for their consideration. Stay positive and keep moving forward by reaching out to others who can support your application.
Email Response Example
Have Your Resume Ready in Minutes
You’ll need to have everything prepared before making a recommendation request so it’s easy for the other person to do what you’re asking them to do.
And coming in prepared means you’ll need to have a completed resume.
If you’re struggling to get your resume done, you can use Rezi AI Resume Writer to speed up the process by letting it write tailored bullet points for you:
- Enter your job title/role.
- Press “Generate Bullet.”
- Either add the bullet point to your resume by clicking “Apply Suggestion” or click “AI Writer Generate” to try again.
You can get started here for free.
Or, watch the short clip below to see Rezi AI in action:
A letter of recommendation attests to your skills, knowledge, and character. It’s an effective way to improve your chances of a successful application.
To raise your odds of getting a positive response and the best possible letter, prepare everything the recommender would need. If they have to do more than just write you a letter, they’re more likely to turn you down.
And remember, they’re not paid whatsoever to do this. Their core motivation is usually to help you out, so be sure to show your sincere gratitude when they agree to give you their support.