How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

Not many of us know that a simple letter of recommendation works as the magic key that can open several doors. And a lot of us have never asked for one or were reluctant to request a letter of recommendation from someone we know.

Actually, a letter of recommendation helps us in several ways.

Letter Of Recommendation

Uses of a Letter of Recommendation

A letter of recommendation can open up doors to a new job, participation in a specialized training program, promotions, grants and scholarships.

In fact, a lot of fresher applicants get their first job or embark on a career thanks to a superb letter of recommendation.

If you’re a freelancer or considering entry into the gig-economy, a letter of recommendation can help get superb contracts and projects.

And a letter of recommendation can also prove useful while applying for loans or credit from certain financial institutions.

Smaller businesses also have a lot to gain from letters of recommendation because they influence other customers by assuring them of the quality of products or services.

As we can see from the above examples, a letter of recommendation might sound like a humble piece of paper or email. Yet, it work as a magic key that can ensure success in life, regardless whether its higher education, career or business.

Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

Since a letter of recommendation is such an important document, we’ve to ensure that it’s well-written and comes from a person who can genuinely speak about our skills and abilities.

Because these are elements that would primarily influence the person that reads the letter of recommendation.

But above all, such a letter of recommendation also has to come from a person that has some solid standing in their respective field or impeccable credentials on their own. 

A letter of recommendation from just any entity doesn’t work well.

Therefore, if you need a recommendation letter, the best thing to do is ask for one. Follow these simple steps to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Also read: Thank You Letter After Interview: Samples and Writing Tips

Define the Purpose

Defining the purpose for a letter of recommendation is the first step we’ve to take before actually going about asking for one. Because that would help us identify the right persons to ask and get one.

Generally, there’re several purposes that a recommendation letter serves.

  • Getting grants and scholarships for higher education.
  • While applying for the first job to embark on a chosen career.
  • Requesting promotion at the current place of work.
  • Asking for a salary raise from the present employer.
  • Getting a new employer to consider your application while searching jobs.
  • Impressing buyers on freelancing platforms to hire your services.
  • Applying for loans or credit and seed funding for new startups or other ventures.
  • To get visas to certain countries that require a letter guaranteeing your return.

In some of the instances I cite above, a letter of recommendation might be necessary only under specific circumstances. We will discuss those later in this article. 

Who Can Give Letter of Recommendation?

Upon defining the reasons for requiring a letter of recommendation, the second and most obvious step is shortlisting the best people who would write one upon your request.

It’s always best to avoid close relatives including parents for a letter of recommendation, unless an organization explicitly requires one.

Here’s a list of persons that I would suggest for asking a letter of recommendation, depending upon the reason.

  • For grants & scholarships: teachers, principal, coach, faculty members or even community members and leaders, depending on the type of grant or scholarship.
  • Applying for first job: faculty members, persons working in your field, preferably at senior positions, Human Resources or Admin manager of the place you did internship or traineeship.
  • Request for promotion: colleagues, immediate senior, Human Resources or Admin manager at your workplace.
  • Asking for salary raise: immediate senior only.
  • Applying for new job: your employer or their Human Resources or Admin manager, prominent persons in your field, immediate senior.
  • For freelance projects: past employers and buyers for whom you’ve already done projects.
  • Loans or credit: though rare, some financial institutions might require a letter of recommendation. Usually, a letter from current employer would be sufficient. For community specific loans, ask leaders of the community organizations.
  • Visa applications: some countries require a letter of recommendation for issuing a visa. Depending on purpose of visit such as study or business, you can get a letter or recommendation from your faculty members, current employer or a foreign client or business associate.
  • Membership of clubs and organizations: some clubs and organizations will make you their member only if you have one or sometimes more letters of recommendation. Generally, other members of the club or organization have to provide this letter of recommendation that goes with your application.
  • Donations & charity: Letter of recommendations are also very useful when collection donations or charity for a worthy cause. These letters encourage others to donate.

Shortlisting Persons to Ask Recommendation Letter

The above list should give a fair idea on whom you can or should realistically approach to ask for a letter of recommendation. In some cases, such as asking for a raise or visa applications, among others, the choice is limited.

In other cases, create a list of five persons that you personally believe are the best for giving a letter of recommendation. And then try and identify two or three that would best serve the purpose. 

Broadly speaking, you can consider the person on basis to their relevance in that specific field where you require a recommendation letter.

If you’re applying for a new job and have already resigned, it’s fine to ask you’re previous employer or a senior official at the workplace, former colleagues and the person who was your immediate senior for a letter of recommendation. 

The same holds true while looking for a scholarships or grants but instead of an employer, you can ask a letter of recommendation from senior faculty members.

And if you’re a freelances, the more recommendation letters, the greater your chances of getting a project.

Therefore, ask every buyer of your freelance work to provide a letter of recommendation.

If you’re just about to embark on the side-gig or freelance journey, get a few such letters from past employer, faculty members and senior persons in your trade. Members or leaders of trade associations are also good enough for this purpose.

Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

Once you’re through with the three steps I mention earlier, get ready to actually ask for a letter of recommendation.  Here’s how to ask for a letter of recommendation.

Call the Person

Call the person only if you already have an acquaintance. Because you just can’t call out of the blue to an unknown person to ask for a letter of recommendation.

If you don’t know the person or have no direct connections, ask friends or relatives for an introduction. And when you meet this person, ask if they would be willing to recommend you for the job or grant.

Even though you may know a person quite well, it’s always good etiquette to call and inform that you require a letter of recommendation and request them to write one.

This helps to eliminate any names from your shortlist. If one person refuses for any reason, you always have two or four more persons to ask.

Write an Email

As a rule, always follow-up your phone call with an email. And write an email to persons from whom you’ll ask a letter of recommendation but were unable to call for any reason.

An email allows you to tell precisely why you require a recommendation letter and details such as the person or organizations who would be getting it.

Therefore, start your email by referring to the phone call. If you couldn’t call but know the person well, you can directly request the person to write a letter of recommendation.

Include the following points in the letter of recommendation.

  • The reasons for requesting a letter of recommendation.
  • How the recommendation letter can help achieve your objectives.
  • Explain why you believe the person is best for giving a recommendation letter.
  • The purpose such as promotion, raise, visa, scholarship or grant, new job or first job.
  • Clearly name the person and organization which would get the letter of recommendation, unless you require a generic one that addresses every entity. Freelancers generally need a generic letter of recommendation only, since future buyers are unknown.
  • For visas, you’ll generally have to state the purpose of visit to a foreign country, duration and dates of return back home. This would generally be done by any employer or organization that’s sending you abroad for studies or work or business trips.
  • For loans and credits, explain clearly whether there would be any liabilities that a person giving the letter of recommendation would have to bear. That’s because sometimes, the issuer of a recommendation letter can be held responsible like a guarantor by the lender.
  • Format of the letter of recommendation: meaning, state clearly whether you require a physical letter of recommendation on letterhead, complete with stamp and sign or an email would be enough.
  • Guarantee that you’ll use the letter of recommendation only for the purpose that you’re mentioning. This assures a person their recommendation wouldn’t be misused in any way. 
  • Conclude your email with a simple request in the form of a question, asking the person whether they’ll provide a recommendation letter for you.

Therefore, get your facts straight before requesting a letter of recommendation by email or even sending one as follow-up of your phone call.

Include a Format if Possible

Some organizations require a letter of recommendation in specific formats. If that’s the case, get hold of the template or format from the organization and attach it to your email.

And if there’re some specific information that should feature on the letter of recommendation, mention that as well while writing the email.

For example, some organizations would like to get specific details. These can be the number of years that a person issuing the letter of recommendation knows you. Or works that you’ve done or are doing for them.

Others might also require a few lines about your overall character traits that show you’re responsible, team-player, hard worker and so on.

Generally and as a rule, the person writing your letter of recommendation has to clearly mention reasons why they believe you should get what you’re asking, whether it’s a job or loan, visa or promotion.

Send a Thank You Email

And once you get the necessary letter of recommendation, send an email thanking the person that wrote it. Again, this reflects good etiquette. Include the following points in your email to thank the person.

  • Thank the person for accepting your request and responding positively by issuing the letter of recommendation.
  • State whether or not you have sent the letter of recommendation to the persons or organizations for whom it was taken and intended.
  • Speak in one or two lines how this letter of recommendation is helping you achieve your goals or objectives.
  • Say that you’ll provide updates if the action or result you expect from the letter of recommendation are yet to come. For example, waiting for the job or visa, grant, promotion or raise.
  • Express gratitude and conclude your email.

Remember, your relationship with the person that issued the letter of recommendation is something to cherish. It shows they trust and value you.

Therefore, expressing gratitude through email is the best way to maintain this relationship. 

Other Ways to Ask for Letter of Recommendation

All this time, I’ve been speaking about getting a letter of recommendation from persons we know or can access through a mutual contact.

But what if there’re situations where you need to ask for a letter of recommendation from perfect strangers?

This can prove to be a major hurdle, right? You’ll believe that a dream job or opportunity is lost because you don’t have anyone that could write an appropriate letter of recommendation.

But this isn’t something to worry about nowadays.

Just in case you’re unaware, it’s also possible to ask for a letter of recommendation through LinkedIn, from a stranger.

However, doing so would require you to have a superb LinkedIn profile and adequate contacts in your field, which includes strangers as well as friends and acquaintances. 

Additionally, it’s also possible to request a letter of recommendation from your social network on Facebook, as long as the person’s profile suits your purpose.

In such cases, send a message on Facebook Messenger to the person. Alternatively, you can create post asking for letter of recommendation from your friends.

The third way is by leveraging memberships of clubs and groups. Meaning, if you’re member of any group or trade organization or club, find out if there’re any people that can give you a letter of recommendation.

Ask for an introduction with such persons and discuss whether they could give such a letter.

Recommendation Letter for Other Purposes

There could be special situations or circumstances where you might require a letter of recommendation. For such cases too, follow the four simple steps that I explain earlier. 

One such special situation is getting the mandatory permit to buy, possess and consume liquor.

This might sound funny but some countries in the Middle East require under law that you hold a liquor permit to buy, store and enjoy booze.

In such situations, it’s generally the employer that has to issue the recommendation letter for your liquor permit to the concerned authority.

This recommendation for liquor permit explicitly state the reason why you need to buy alcohol, which is for personal consumption and to entertain business associates or contacts at home.

The employer has to provide a guarantee that you won’t sell the alcohol bought with the permit, indulge in driving under influence or injure your health by excessive drinking.

Another one is recommendation letters from consultants for a patient to be admitted to a hospital on priority basis, especially when there’re no vacant rooms and beds or even surgery and other medical procedures.

Preserving Letter of Recommendation

And finally, it’s very important to preserve the letter of recommendation you’ll get from any person. In some instances, a letter of recommendation would directly be sent to the person concerned either by email or through the postal system. 

Because, its contents have to be confidential and the organization prefers hearing from the person directly. In such cases, respect the need for secrecy and thank the person for sending the letter of recommendation.

But if you do get a copy of the letter or email with recommendation, preserve them carefully.

Though it may have no further use, the recommendation letter is still an important document that marks something you wanted at a specific time. It is a symbol of the extra efforts that a person exerted for you to achieve a goal.

In Conclusion

Asking for a letter of recommendation isn’t complex or difficult. All you require is the right person and total honesty. The above tips should help you ask for a letter of recommendation easily.

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