How to write or request a letter of recommendation (2023)

Job search prospects can be transformed when a credible external perspective is shared in a letter of recommendation.

There are certain situations when a letter of recommendation might be required, and it is certainly not a standard part of every job application. However, when one is requested, or if circumstances demand that it would add value, there are a number of considerations in terms of how to write – or how to request – recommendation letters.

This blog will explore the following:

  • What is a letter of recommendation?
  • Who needs a recommendation letter?
  • How to ask for letters of recommendation
  • The format of a letter of recommendation
  • 5 characteristics of a winning letter of recommendation
  • Tips for writing a recommendation letter

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A letter of recommendation could make all the difference to an otherwise shaky application. When extra context / background is required, the credibility that it provides could be the deciding factor in that interview invite or job offer.

(Video) Requesting letters of recommendation

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is an influential tool in many job searches. There is always an inherent bias when a candidate is describing their accomplishments, but when the perspective comes from a colleague or previous boss, there is a whole new level of credibility. Sharing letters of recommendation introduces essential elements of social proof to the interview process.

A letter of recommendation validates a candidate’s work, skillsor educational achievements. It corroborates the claims that they have made in their resume and during their interviews, reinforcing their trustworthiness and amplifying their other messages. If you offer proof of one achievement, the others seem more believable.

An ideal letter of recommendation will come from someone who has worked closely with a candidate, who knows what they can contribute and can explain with real examples and considered feedback why they would be a great fit for the role in question. Depending on circumstances, this may be a colleague, boss, teacher or close acquaintance.

The credibility of the referee is a crucial aspect of a powerful letter of recommendation – the person needs to have a sufficiently close relationship with the candidate.

Expert tip

Consider the source, and avoid asking for a recommendation letter from anyone who stands to gain by your hire, such as a supplier or provider who may want to win business from the company.

Who needs a letter of recommendation?

The majority of hiring managers will not welcome letters of recommendation unless they have been specifically requested. The resumeand cover lettershould do the job search heavy lifting, but there are certain circumstances when a letter of recommendation could be supplied – even in the absence of a specific request.

1. Applying for college, grad school or a scholarship

Colleges, universities and grad programs sometimes ask for letters of recommendation. This is partly because students may not have so much work experience, but it also highlights the power of a letter of recommendation as a tool to understand future potential. Admissions officers need a companion to a student’s personal essay.

Related articleHow to write a cover letter with no experienceWhen you don’t have much experience in the field you’re applying to, writing a cover letter can feel like a daunting task. While you might be tempted to submit your application without one, that would be a big mistake.

2. Certain professions encourage recommendation letters

Certain professions, such as medicine or education, have traditionally included letters of recommendation as part of their application process. When a role entails interactions with other people that have the potential to be life-changing, this external check allows for informed hiring decisions.

3. Lack of experience or changing careers

If a job candidate lacks experience or is seeking to change careers, a comparatively weak application can benefit from a letter of recommendation that will support a pitch for that new job. A character reference from a previous colleague or friend can make all the difference. If there is a contact in a desired field who can testify to suitability, then all the better. An impossible leap suddenly becomes a little more attainable.

Expert tip

When writing or requesting a letter of recommendation, make sure it's tailored to the situation. No job or candidate is the same, so there will always be a unique fit of talent and opportunity. Avoid letters of recommendation that could have been written for any job.

(Video) Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Related articleWhat is a letter of introduction and how do you write one?When you are looking for a new job or client, the first step is to send a letter to introduce yourself.

How to ask for recommendation letters

Recommendation letters usually come from close acquaintances who are happy to help. This does not mean, however, that the request should not be polite and thoughtful. There are certain guidelines an applicant should consider when asking for recommendation letters. If the ground has been carefully prepared, the outcome will be that much better.

  • Try to ask during a conversation rather than an email or message.
  • Include the job description and explain your unique situation.
  • Share your resume to show how you present yourself.
  • Make suggestions about the sorts of things to include (or perhaps leave out).
  • Consider including a template that can guide and shape the letter.
  • Allow plenty of time for the letter to be written and include a realistic deadline.

Above all, it's important to express gratitude when asking for letters of recommendation. Anyone who writes one for you is doing you a big favor, and you shouldn't take it for granted.

Expert tip

Ask for a recommendation on LinkedIn

The world of LinkedIn recommendation is filled with murky reciprocation and algorithm-gaming tactics. Many people get recommendations from connections with whom they have never spoken and who are from entirely different industries. Ask for recommendations only from those you know personally, and make sure the recommendation is truthful and specific to the job seeker's skill set.

Letter of recommendation format

Writing a great letter of recommendation requires attention to formatting as well as word choice. Below we offer recommendation letter examples that include the following sections:

  • Introduction and statement of recommendation
  • Overview and reasons for recommendation letter
  • Personal story with specific and tailored evidence
  • Recommendation letter closing statement

Introduction and statement of recommendation

It is important for writers of recommendation letters to establish both their relationship with the applicant and their own area of expertise to give the recommendation credibility.

A statement of recommendation should be overwhelmingly positive and unequivocal in its support of the candidate. Set an enthusiastic tone of positivity.


It’s my pleasure to recommendHelen Hagotfora position as a graphic designer at the Tribune. I’veknownHelenforfiveyears and worked withher closely in my capacity asart director of the Post.I’ve always foundHelento be acreative and dynamiccolleague, prone to finding divine design solutions for every project.

(Video) Ask for a Letter of Recommendation | Here's How to Do it…


Overview and reasons for recommendation

A great letter of recommendation gets straight to the point in terms of the personal qualities and accomplishments that make the applicant really good at this job.

Include the types of professional and academic accomplishments that will add to the candidate’s job search argument. And make it clear that the writer has witnessed these qualities first-hand.


Helen is especially talented at photo illustration, though she has astonishing skills in drawing and painting as well. She was always my go-to for creating cover art when needed, and given her collaborative nature and cheery disposition, everyone loved to work with her.

Personal story with specific and tailored evidence

Telling a story that mentions the specific strengths of the candidate and relates to how they will perform in their future role is the perfect way of influencing a future hiring manager. Offer context and evidence to back up any opinions.


The Post was proud to take home five Society of News Design awards last year, and I couldn’t help noting that Helen’s name was on three of them. Helen is not just good – she makes everyone around her better.



Recommendation letter closing statement

Close on a positive note. If you’re game, let the hiring manager know that you would be happy to provide more information over the phone or by email.


Any publication in the country would be lucky to have Helen. Please feel free to call or write if you’d like to talk more.


5 characteristics of winning recommendation letters

When there is an extra element added to job search documentation, it is important that it adds to a candidate’s case rather than detracts from it. If the following five characteristics are present in recommendation letters, there is every chance that there will be a positive outcome.

1. The recommendation letter comes from a credible source.

It matters a great deal who is writing the recommendation letter. They need to have experience in the target industry and be of sufficient seniority that their opinion will be respected by the hiring manager. Ideally, they will have worked closely with the applicant.

2. It is specific and tailored towards the role in question.

When a hiring manager is looking for specific answers in terms of a candidate’s suitability, there is nothing worse than a cookie cutter recommendation letter that seems to have been written for a broad range of possible jobs. Ideally, the letter should mention the name of the target company and speak to the role the candidate is seeking.

3. The message is unapologetically positive.

The clue is in the name. The letter is intended to recommend the person. There is no requirement to write a balanced assessment of suitability, so the recommendation letter should have an unmistakably positive tone.

4. It tells a story with a thoughtful level of detail.

The more detail the writer can add to the story, the deeper the reader will internalize the message. It is better to share one detailed story than to provide a superficial list of reasons to hire someone.

5. The recommendation letter suggests that a hire would be appropriate.

It’s not a recommendation writer’s job to tell employers what to do. But the message should be clear that this is a great candidate who would make a good hire.

Key takeaways

  • In certain situations, such as for studentsapplying to college, a letter of recommendation may be an essential tool to make an impact.
  • Avoid sending a letter of recommendation unless a potential employer has specifically requested one.
  • When writing a letter of recommendation, make it specific and try to tell a story about the candidate.
  • Follow the trusted format and make sure to include details of your personal connection with the applicant.


How do you write a good request for a letter of recommendation? ›

Dear Ms./Mr. [Recommender Name], I hope you're well. I'm in the process of applying to [school or company name] and want to ask if you feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation on my behalf. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as [your relationship to the recommender].

What do you do if you don't have enough letters of recommendation? ›

What to Do if You Don't Have Anyone to Write You a Recommendation Letter
  1. Reach out to your academic advisor. ...
  2. Reach out to former professors. ...
  3. Ask your boss (or former boss) ...
  4. Take a class and build a relationship. ...
  5. Talk to Admissions.
15 Nov 2021

How do you follow up a letter of recommendation after no response? ›

To follow up, send a polite email asking about the status of the letter. You may also politely remind the writer about the upcoming due date. If you don't hear back from the writer within two or three days, call or visit him or her personally.

Can you ask for a letter of recommendation more than once? ›

Can I Reuse Letters of Recommendation Multiple Times? Definitely! Reusing one teacher's recommendation for multiple colleges can save you much time and is an intelligent way to handle the process.

How do you ask someone to recommend something? ›

You might have heard about a position, but need someone to recommend you in order to apply.
Asking for recommendations:
  1. Could you put in a good word for me?
  2. Could you let others know about this experience?
  3. Could you pass this on to others?
  4. Would you mind sharing your experience?
  5. Would you add me to your contact list?

How do you ask for a recommendation sentence? ›

Email Template for Asking for a Letter of Recommendation:

With this in mind, I think you would be a great person to vouch for my skills in [key skill area]. I'm currently working as [type of role] and this new job is closely related but will require the [key skills] I developed while working with you.

How do you ask someone you barely know for a letter of recommendation? ›

Whether it's a favorite former boss or your thesis advisor, you should casually email or give this person a call if you feel close enough. A phone call sounds more personal, and if you don't feel comfortable cold-calling, you can always email beforehand and ask for a reasonable time to chat.

What should you avoid in a letter of recommendation? ›

A successful letter should avoid:
  • General language or overly broad descriptors of the student's performance in the classroom;
  • Focusing on a student's punctuality or ability to complete the readings. ...
  • Too much time and attention detailing the relationship with the student or the content of the course.

What to do if you can't give a good reference? ›

Provide written reference letters. If your reference can't speak to your potential employer, maybe they'll write a letter for you instead. These letters can often be used for future interviews, so make sure to save copies.

How do you politely follow up for a response? ›

Tip: Be brief. Be polite by asking if they've looked it over rather than accuse or point out that you haven't received it yet. Add value by giving them context for the urgency if needed or urgency about the next steps. Finish with a call to action so they know what you want them to do and why it's important.

How can I politely tell someone that I'm waiting for their response? ›

7 alternatives to “I look forward to hearing from you”
  • 1 Use a call-to-action. ...
  • 2 I'm eager to receive your feedback. ...
  • 3 I appreciate your quick response. ...
  • 4 Always happy to hear from you. ...
  • 5 Keep me informed . . . ...
  • 6 I await your immediate response. ...
  • 7 Write soon!
3 Sept 2021

What happens if reference doesn't respond? ›

Find new references

If the initial reference has yet to respond to your requests, then consider selecting another to speak on your behalf. The hiring employer may have a deadline to submit your reference's contact information so finding a new one can help you be more productive with your time.

Is 2 weeks enough for letter of recommendation? ›

Ideally, give the person three to four weeks, but never less than two weeks to complete the recommendation. Most faculty and staff are very busy and have numerous recommendations to write, so you want to be courteous.

How many letters of recommendation is enough? ›

Schools vary on the number of letters of recommendation they require, so make sure to check each school's requirements in LSAC. Typically, two-four letters are required, meaning schools most commonly require two letters but will accept up to four.

Is 2 letters of recommendation enough? ›

Students generally ask, “How many recommendation letters do I need to get into college?” The answer usually varies depending on the university. Typically, it's best to have one professional and one academic reference letter. Some universities may ask for three or more.

What is the best wording for a recommendation? ›

It's my absolute pleasure to recommend [Name] for [position] with [Company]. [Name] and I [relationship] at [Company] for [length of time]. I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with [Name], and came to know [him/her/them] as a truly valuable asset to our team.

What to say when you want to recommend something? ›

Giving Advice
  1. (I think/I really think) you need to/must/should ...
  2. How about ...?
  3. It is usually a good idea to ...
  4. My suggestion/advice is (to) ...
  5. Why don't you ...?
  6. You could (try) ...
  7. You probably/definitely/really should ...

What are the words you used to express your recommendation? ›

Four phrases for you: “I recommend taking”, “I recommend or suggest that you take”, and “You should/You shouldn't.” You should and you shouldn't are very direct phrases. They are almost a little bit commanding like you are saying, I know what's best for the other person.

How do you start a sentence with a recommendation? ›

"My teacher made a recommendation for a good tutor." "The committee issued several recommendations." "We followed his recommendations." "They ignored my recommendation."

Can you ask for a letter of recommendation via email? ›

If a face-to-face conversation isn't an option, you can always ask for a letter of recommendation via email. Scheduling a time to meet ensures that the person has time to devote to you, and it allows you to explain why you've selected them as the best person to write the letter.

How do I ask for a letter of recommendation by email from a manager? ›

Dear [Recipient Name], I'm writing to request a letter of recommendation from you regarding the time I spent working with you at [Company Name]. Between [Date] to [Date], I worked under your supervision as a [Job Title] at the [Company Branch Name/Location]. I'm in the process of applying for a [Job Title] position.

Who should you not ask for a letter of recommendation? ›

Don't ask a family member or a friend for a recommendation as a college may not take them seriously. You should always follow the guidelines from the colleges you are applying to when choosing who to write your letter of recommendation.

How do you ask a professor for a letter of recommendation you haven't talked to in a while? ›

Make Your Request

Let them know you're looking for work and you would like to use them as a reference. Tell them the type of work, and if it's related to work you did together, tell them how. This can help jog their memory of the work you did together, which is particularly important if that was some time ago.

Can I get accepted without recommendation letters? ›

Yes, you can get accepted into college without letters of recommendation. It's rather routine for colleges to ask for 1 to 3 letters of recommendation, often including a letter from a guidance counselor and at least one teacher.

What makes a letter of recommendation strong? ›

A great letter will focus on your accomplishments, contributions, motivation, attitude, reliability, consistency, and other such skills. It is crucial to ensure that the person providing the recommendation knows you well and has a favorable opinion of your capability.

What are three important things to mention in a letter of recommendation? ›

A recommendation letter should include information on who you are, your connection with the person you are recommending, why they are qualified, and the specific skills they have. Specifics. Whenever possible, it's helpful to provide specific anecdotes and examples that illustrate your support.

Do colleges really care about letters of recommendation? ›

While letters of recommendation are just one part of your application, they do play an important role in the college admissions process. These letters provide admission representatives with valuable information that's not necessarily obvious from your college application alone.

What happens if you don't have enough references? ›

If you don't have job references, ask a classmate, teacher, client, or another non-family member to vouch for you. Talk to your references before you give their contact information to a potential employer.

Can you give a poor reference? ›

It is commonly assumed that a previous employer must give a reference and is legally prohibited from giving a bad one. This is not the case. Your employer can give you a bad or unfavourable reference, but only if they genuinely believe it to be true and accurate and have reasonable grounds for that belief.

How do you write a reference for someone who is not good? ›

How to Write a Reference Letter for an Average Ex-Employee
  • Use Formal Business Writing Format. ...
  • Offer Details of Your Relationship. ...
  • Don't Badmouth the Employee. ...
  • Avoid Exaggerating Their Skills. ...
  • Just Provide the Pertinent Details. ...
  • Letter of Recommendation for Bad Employee Sample.
8 May 2019

How do you write a follow up email asking for a response? ›

I'm just following up on an email I previously sent to you. I understand that you are busy, but I would appreciate it if you could review the email and respond to me as soon as you can. If I don't hear from you by the end of the week, I'll call you at your office.

How do you politely ask for a quick response? ›

If something is urgent, use the following expressions: “As this matter is urgent, I would appreciate a reply as soon as possible.” “I would be grateful for your prompt reply.” “I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.”

How do you say fast response professionally? ›

Less formal
  1. Thank you so much for the speedy reply.
  2. Thank you so much for your speedy reply.
  3. Thank you for the/your quick reply.
  4. Thank you for the/your quick response.
  5. Thanks so much for....

How do you say I will wait for your response professionally? ›

Formal Ways of Saying “I Look Forward to Hearing From You”

I'm eagerly awaiting your response. I hope to hear from you soon. Your prompt response would be appreciated. Keep me informed of any updates.

Can you use an old boss as a reference? ›

When you have a bad boss, this is even more important. That's because a prospective employer will want to speak with your previous bosses whether you list them as references or not. If you are still employed, you can request that your current employer not be called until an offer has been extended.

Is it OK to use someone as a reference without asking? ›

Do not list someone as a reference without asking them first. It is common courtesy to ask for permission before doing so. Asking permission from the person you list to be your reference will prevent them from being caught off guard when they receive a call from someone unknown. It may also hurt your application.

Can you be sued for a negative reference? ›

Legal Consequences for Bad Employment References

If an employer makes negative comments about you when they are contacted for an employment reference you may be able to bring a lawsuit against them for defamation. It's important to note though that the truth is a defense to defamation.

Is it OK to copy letters of recommendation? ›

Please note that copies of recommendation letters are not acceptable and the student must have original recommendation letters for all universities.

How do I ask for a letter of recommendation? ›

Steps to ask for a letter of recommendation
  1. Make a list of possible people to ask.
  2. Reach out to the person, followed by a formal letter.
  3. Provide enough time.
  4. Send your resume or brag sheet.
  5. Provide other necessary details.
  6. Send a thank-you letter.
23 Feb 2022

Is 1 month enough for letter of recommendation? ›

It's best practice to give at least one month in advance, and more if you're applying to graduate school. At absolute minimum, you want to give them a two week's notice. This will allow them to reflect on your work and character, and have a conversation with you if they want more information.

What do colleges look for in letters of recommendation? ›

Some colleges will ask for two or three letters of recommendation during the application process. These letters should be written by someone who can describe your skills, accomplishments, and personality.

Is one reference letter enough? ›

Most selective colleges and universities require one to three recommendation letters with your application, usually from your guidance counselor and at least one teacher. Recommendation letters are typically submitted electronically through the school-specific supplements on The Common Application.

Is it okay to ask professors for letters of recommendation twice? ›

It is fine; don't worry about it. This is a very common situation: many graduates will apply to more than one program that needs recommendation letters.

Can I submit 4 letters of recommendation? ›

One way in which some students hope to get an edge is through letters of recommendation. Most schools require two letters from teachers and one letter from a counselor, but allow students to submit additional letters if they wish.

What is the etiquette for asking for a letter of recommendation? ›

Request recommendations from those who know you, since they will be better equipped to write a compelling recommendation for you. Ask your potential recommender, “Do you feel you know me well enough to write a letter of recommendation for me” for this particular position/program/school/scholarship/etc.

How do you ask your boss for a letter of recommendation via email? ›

Template for a letter of recommendation request email

I am writing to ask if you will provide a letter of recommendation for me as I apply to [school and course of study or company and role]. Since my application is due [date], your recommendation needs to be received no later than [date needed].

How do you write a request for a letter of recommendation from a professor? ›

Make a formal request of your professor (by email or by appointment), asking if he or she would be willing to write a letter or fill out a form on your behalf. Explain the purpose of the recommendation and why you have chosen the professor. Give the professor time to consider your request.

When should you not ask for a letter of recommendation? ›

Who NOT to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
  • A Teacher Who's Famous but Doesn't Know You.
  • A Teacher Who Taught You Early, and for a Short Time.
  • Someone Who's Related to You.
  • Your Best Friend (Unless It's a Peer Recommendation)
  • Someone Who Doesn't Have the Best Impression of You.
10 Jul 2020

How do I ask for a recommendation on a short notice? ›

3 Tips for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation on Short Notice
  1. Choose a recommender with whom you have a close relationship.
  2. Explain the circumstances.
  3. Provide a copy of your application materials.
25 Jun 2020

How do you ask for a letter of recommendation from someone you don't know well? ›

If You Don't Know Someone Really Well

First, send a cordial email with a subject line that says something like “Saying hi!” or “Checking in!” Start out by asking how they are and about some part of the school or organization that they'd be able to answer.

How do you write a powerful recommendation? ›

Be specific.

Choose strong, accurate adjectives over general terms or cliches. Think about what the person reading the letter might want to know. Include details or insight that wouldn't necessarily show up on a resume or application. Your letter should help the recipient get to know the person you are recommending.

How do you write a letter of recommendation via email? ›

  1. Keep It Short. ...
  2. Remind Them Who You Are. ...
  3. Make Your Request Assertive And Specific. ...
  4. Don't Assume Your Request Will Be Accepted. ...
  5. Use A Professional Subject Line. ...
  6. Use A Proper Salutation. ...
  7. Introduce Yourself And Refresh The Professor's Mind.
25 Sept 2019

How do you ask for a letter of recommendation from a university? ›

How to request an academic reference
  1. Ask first! ...
  2. Make sure you are asking the right person. ...
  3. Supply the Lecturer with supporting information about you. ...
  4. Give them time to write the letter. ...
  5. Send a friendly reminder. ...
  6. Follow-up with a thank you.


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