Much like your resume and interview, your references can make or break a job application. When a potential employer asks you for a letter of recommendation, it is important that you are able to provide a convincing letter from someone who knows you well and can recommend your abilities. Good testimony on your behalf may be just the encouragement an employer needs to offer you the job.
Unfortunately, asking someone for a letter of recommendation can be nerve-wracking. This is a major favour to ask, and it can be difficult to know who to ask and how to approach them. With the right strategy, however, you will have the letter of recommendation you need to score your next job.
First of all, what is a letter of recommendation? A letter of recommendation is a personalized letter written by someone who knows you that recommends your skills and abilities. A strong letter of recommendation should speak highly of your personality, skills, and experience, and give the reader an idea of what working with you is like. This letter is an important piece of evidence supporting your candidacy, and should show that you are talented, hardworking, and easy to get along with.
You should provide a letter of recommendation only when asked by an employer. Though all employers want references, they are far more likely to ask for their contact information rather than a letter. Employers will want to verify each reference themselves by phone, making a letter of recommendation unnecessary in most cases.
There are some situations where letters of recommendation are more common, however. College applications and scholarship applications, for example, often require letters of recommendation from professors or counsellors. Many internships will also require letters of recommendation in their application process. As a rule of thumb, only provide letters of recommendation when they are specifically asked for.
Letters of recommendation will most commonly come from previous employers. Depending on your circumstances, however, they can come from many sources. If you are in sales or another customer-facing role, for example, clients, customers or other business contacts are good candidates for writing a letter of recommendation. If you are a student or recent graduate, professors, teachers, and counsellors are also perfectly acceptable. If you are involved in volunteering, your supervisor or co-volunteers may be able to write you a letter.
Importantly, anyone you ask for a letter of recommendation must be someone who will have good things to say about you. A past employer who you left on good terms will be much more willing to help you out than an employer who fired you. If you ask a professor, be sure that it is a professor whose class you did well in, or is at least someone you have a good relationship with.
Your letter of recommendation should be positive and generous, and give some insight into who you are and how you work. Try to find people who know you well and will be able to give a genuine description of your abilities, rather than someone who hardly knows you and will write a boring, boilerplate recommendation. The personal touch can make all the difference.
Asking for a favour can be nerve-wracking, especially when that favour is career-related. With the right strategy, however, you will be able to overcome your nerves and reach out for the letter of recommendation you need. As long as you approach your letter-writers with the right attitude and the right information, you will have a great letter of recommendation in no time.
Many people worry that by asking someone to write a letter of recommendation, they are overreaching or asking for too much. This is not the case! This probably isn’t the first letter of recommendation your letter-writer has written, and it won’t be the last. Professors and teachers in particular are very accustomed to writing letters of recommendation, as students apply for scholarships and internships all year long. Though requesting a letter of recommendation is a big step for you, for those in position to write a recommendation it is a common occurrence. You aren’t likely to offend them or ask for too much; for them, writing recommendations is simply a part of life. You can stop worrying and just ask.
Though you aren’t going to offend anyone by asking, courtesy is still required. You are asking for a favour, after all, even if it is a common one. Demanding that the letter be done sooner or acting like they owe you this letter will offend them. Be as polite and formal as is expected in a business setting. It is important to remember that they have no obligation to help you; they are doing it out of their own generosity. Be sure to treat them with the respect and gratitude that they deserve.
It is important to give your letter-writers plenty of time to write the letter of recommendation. Employers and professors are busy people with lots of other priorities. Even a past employer who loves you and wants to help out won’t be able to write the letter the night before your application is due. Don’t wait until the day before the deadline to ask. Give them three weeks or more, and be sure to tell them the deadline so they can plan accordingly.
In order to write the best recommendation letter possible, your writer must fully understand what it will be used for. You should tell them all about the role you are applying to, including the company, the specific job title, and what your responsibilities will be. This way, they will be able to tailor their recommendation to the application and ensure that it is relevant to the position.
A great way to make your letter-writer’s job easy is to remind them of specific jobs or projects that you worked on together so that they will have something to discuss in their letter. This saves them the trouble of racking their brain for relevant anecdotes about you, and it gives you the opportunity to influence what goes into the letter itself. Before asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation, try brainstorming examples that they can use in their letter.
If you are pressed for time, or if your letter-writer is simply too busy, it may be in your interest to offer to write the letter yourself. Even if someone wants to help you out by writing the letter, it may be that the timing just doesn’t work and they won’t be able to meet the application deadline. If this is the case, you can save them some hassle by writing the letter yourself. You must ask their permission first, and you should have them sign off on the letter before adding it to your application, but ghost-writing your own recommendation is a great way to get the letter you want and save your recommender some hassle.
If someone has written a letter recommending you to an employer, they have done you an important favour that could have a huge impact on your career. It is important to show gratitude. Let them know that you appreciate their taking the time to help you and thank them politely after they have written your letter.
It is good practice to let your letter-writer know once you have submitted the letter. This way, they will not be surprised if the employer follows up on the letter by phone. You don’t want them surprised by a call from out of the blue. Letting them know when you have submitted the letter prepares them to respond well to any follow-up questions.
You should also follow up with your letter-writer when you get the job. It will be nice for them to hear that you have succeeded with their help, and it is a good opportunity for you to thank them again for their assistance.
If you still have regular contact with your potential letter-writers, your best bet is to ask them for a letter of recommendation in person. If this is not possible, however, you will likely reach out to them via email. If this is the case, it is important that your message is succinct and polite, and has all the information they need to write a great recommendation.
I am reaching out to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me. I am currently applying to [company name] for the role of [job title], and they have requested a letter of recommendation from a former employer. I learned a lot during my time at [previous company], and I would be honoured if you would be willing to do this for me.
As we worked well together on [specific project], I think that you know my skills in [relevant skill areas] and that you would be able to provide a strong reference.
The application deadline is [date]. If you are able to do this, please let me know as soon as you can. If there is anything I can help with, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Thank you, [Your Name]
I hope you are doing well.
I am currently writing an application at [company name] for the role of [job title]. They have requested a letter of recommendation, and would be honoured if you would write one for my application.
I have enjoyed your classes this semester, and I really appreciate what I learned from [specific project]. As you have seen me studying and working hard, I feel that you would be able to give me a strong recommendation that would really help my application.
The application deadline is [date]. If you are willing to write this letter for me, would it be possible to have the letter ready in time for submission? Please let me know if there is anything I can help you with.
Thank you, [Your Name]
Community Success Manager & CV Writing Expert
Ben is a writer, customer success manager and CV writing expert with over 5 years of experience helping job-seekers create their best careers. He believes in the importance of a great resume summary and the power of coffee.
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