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11/25/18 - How to Ask for an Awesome Letter of Recommendation (and Actually Get One)

by Kat Boogaard 

You’ve found your dream company. The even better news? They’re currently hiring for a position that’s perfect for you.

You’ve already tackled all of the application basics. You did your research, tailored your resume, wrote an impressive cover letter, and even sent the department head a friendly LinkedIn request.

But, with all of that under your belt, you’re looking for one more way that you can stand out and elevate yourself above the competition.

We have three words for you: letter of recommendation.

Is it Common for Employers to Ask for Letters of Recommendation?

Honestly? It’s rare that you’ll be explicitly asked to hand one of these over. (It’s much more likely that you’ll be asked for references.)

“Except for junior roles where someone lacks experience or senior roles where character is as important as skill set,” clarifies Tara Padua, a Muse Career Coach.

Should You Have These Letters in Your Back Pocket Anyway?

I know what you’re thinking: If these letters aren’t an expectation, why would I go through the trouble of getting them?

Well, just because an employer won’t demand them doesn’t mean you can’t use them to separate yourself from the job search competition.

“If you have a letter, hiring managers could get more of a sense of your skills if they aren’t able to connect live with your former supervisors for whatever reason and only get the basics from HR,” explains Muse Career Coach Kelly Poulson.

Beyond giving you the opportunity to emphasize what makes you a no-brainer for that role, these letters can also serve as an awesome confidence boost.

“It certainly doesn’t hurt on days when you’re doubting yourself (we all have them!) to have something to refer to that reminds you of how valued you truly are,” Poulson adds.

How Should You Go About Asking Someone to Write You One?

You might be convinced of the power of a solid letter of recommendation—but, that doesn’t necessarily mean asking is any easier. Fortunately, there are ways to make this request a little less nerve-wracking.

First things first, think carefully about who you’re asking. Poulson warns that you don’t want to request too much of any one person—meaning you might want to stay away from your references when thinking about who to ask for a letter. “Be mindful of your asks and pick folks to write letters who likely won’t be doing calls as well,” she adds.

While a letter of recommendation from someone who’s high up the ladder can be impressive, make sure that you’re asking people who actually know you and your work. “Having a senior person write a generic letter of recommendation without any real knowledge of you and your skills will produce the opposite effect,” explains Padua. And even if it doesn’t hurt, it won’t help.

In terms of actually making the ask, Poulson shares that a little bit of flattery can go a long way. “Start out with how much you’ve enjoyed working with them and how much you value their opinion,” Poulson adds.

Finally, make the process of writing the letter as painless as possible by empowering them with the information they need. “Make it easy for the person to recommend you,” Padua says, “Tell them specifically what you would like to highlight.”

That might mean looking back at your work ethic or impact on the team in a previous position, or emphasizing a specific skill set that matches the type of roles you’re targeting in your search. Whatever it is, make sure you’re clear about what you’re looking for.

And that includes being clear about your timeline as well. Remember, you’re asking this person for a favor, so you need to be realistic with your expectations. It’s smart to give contacts at least a week (but ideally more) to get the letter drafted and returned to you.

Make sense? Great—let’s pull all of those tips into an easy-to-use template.

Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
Hi [Name],

I hope you’re having a great week!

I’m reaching out because I’m applying for [type of role] with [type of company] and am pulling together a few letters of recommendation to emphasize why I’m a qualified fit for this kind of position.

I really enjoyed our time working together at [Company]—particularly when we were able to collaborate on [project]. With that in mind, I thought you’d be a great person to vouch for my expertise in [key skill area] and my ability to [impressive result].

I know you’re busy. So, if it’d help, I’m happy to pass along some additional talking points and information to make writing this letter a little easier.

Would you be comfortable writing a letter of this nature for me? Please let me know if you have any questions about this, [Name]. Let’s catch up over coffee soon—my treat!

All the best,
[Your Name]

No, letters of recommendation aren’t a job search staple the way your resume or your cover letter is. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them to your advantage.

If the only thing holding you back is the fact that asking for these letters can feel more than a little awkward (believe me, I get it), take a deep breath, use these tips and this template, and just send that email.

You’ll be armed with an impressive letter or two in your back pocket that you can use to prove to employers that you’re the candidate they’ve been searching for.

Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.