Whether you are approaching graduate school, internships, your first job or scholarship opportunities, there are many upcoming life events which will require a lot of strong and professional applications. Often, an interview and your resume are not going to be enough to prove your merits.
There will be a lot of students vying for the same things as you. Therefore, standing out is crucial. A letter of recommendation is a definite way to stand out in a positive manner and is most likely going to be required at some point in your life.
Letters of recommendation are important because they paint a picture of your character from someone else’s point of view. They convey how you act and your work ethic when no one is watching.
That might sound scary, but it is not all that daunting if you know how and who to ask. Here are seven tips to keep in mind when approaching someone for a letter of recommendation.
Don’t Be Unprofessional
From your letter of recommendation, you will want to come across as professional and hardworking. In order to do this, you need to convey this through your actions.
When asking for a letter of recommendation, approach the individual with respect. If possible, try to ask in person rather than over email; asking in person allows you to discuss the letter further with an open and personal form of communication.
If you have to ask over email, make sure you are still asking in a professional manner. For instance, when composing your email, you need to include a clear subject line such as “Letter of Recommendation for [YOUR NAME].”
When writing the email, be clear and up front. Provide the necessary details and information to whoever you are asking. You want to state who you are, what the letter is for and when the letter is due. It is also a good idea to add some personal aspects that will remind the person you’re asking for the qualities you want to highlight.
Don’t Ask the Wrong Person
You don’t want to ask someone who may not have the best recommendation for you. For example, if you have not done very well in a professor’s class or you have missed many days at a job without telling a supervisor in advance, these people probably wouldn’t write you a very favorable recommendation.
As easy as it might be, you don’t want to ask anyone who is too close to you either. A family member is off-limits, so are close friends (unless you have worked with them and shown professional skills).
That being said, you don’t want to ask someone who doesn’t know you very well. You should find someone who knows who you are and your skillset, without an emotional bias.
Ideally, you should get your letter of recommendation from someone who has experience and is highly regarded in the field that you are applying for. For example, let’s say you need a letter of recommendation for a medical school application.
You should ask a professor you had who works in the medical field and knows you well. A highly regarded professional in the field writing a letter of recommendation will be quite beneficial.
Don’t Come Empty-Handed
When asking for a letter of recommendation, you need to have the details available. You want to tell your professor what the letter is for, when it is due, guidelines for the letter and how they are expected to submit it.
This allows them to be able to have all the information and be prepared; this will help you in the end because you are not expecting them to figure everything out for themselves.
It could also be useful to attach your resume to remind your professor about achievements which you have done that you believe would be important for the letter. However, it is important to remember to not brag or be overbearing; simply give a few reminders when you ask in order to highlight your most impressive qualities.
Don’t Ask at the Last Minute
Make sure to ask at least a month before the letter of recommendation is actually due; a safe window to ask is typically around five to eight weeks before the due date.
You will want to be careful about asking a professor towards the end of the semester because they are writing a lot of letters at this time; you’ll want to give them a good amount of time to put in the effort and thought on yours.
Since many people you would ask to write you a letter of recommendation are often writing multiple ones, it is a good idea to remind them a week or two before the letter is actually due. This serves as a gentle reminder of the letter’s due date.
Don’t Ask Only One Person
It is better to play it safe and ask more than one person for a letter of recommendation. Asking multiple people gives several different perspectives on your skills. Make sure not to go overboard and ask for too many — two to four different people should work out well. Asking numerous individuals acts as a safety net, just in case any plans fall through.
Don’t Forget to Show Gratitude
Following up and thanking the person who wrote you the letter of recommendation is important because you want to maintain a good relationship with them and simply because it is polite. You may need this person to write you another letter of recommendation in the future, and keeping up a professional and kind relationship is important.
Don’t Let Curiosity Get the Best of You
These letters are supposed to be confidential. People write them expecting that they will not be read and that they will not have to answer to a student about what the contents of the letter say. Many letters of recommendation are submitted online or the writer sends it directly to the source.
However, if you are given a sealed envelope, you are expected not to open it. You want to stay professional and trustworthy by not reading the letter. If you don’t think that the letter you get will be favorable, then you should consider asking someone else instead.