How Do I Ask for a Letter of Recommendation?

Do you ever feel like there must be a list of unspoken rules for applying to jobs and internships, but that surely it’s been hidden and locked far away, where no early-career undergrad could ever unearth it? Because I sure do!

One of the more daunting tasks of adulthood, to which college is meant to acclimate us, is the job hunt. A lot of students choose to pursue internships during their college career–and for good reason, an internship is great field experience even if it’s not required for your major–but that process can be daunting. There are a lot of things to know to prepare for finding and applying to positions, and not everyone has someone to teach them. I’ve jumped through the hoops and had my stumbles, so hopefully, I can help with some professional fundamentals.

My topic today is the Letter of Recommendation.

Chances are that you’ve asked for at least one letter of recommendation in the past, as part of your college application. Letters of recommendation display to a potential employer or advisor that you have a good reputation, you leave an impression on your colleagues, and that you apply yourself across a variety of disciplines. It’s important, then, that you take the right steps to thoughtfully and respectfully ask for a letter of recommendation so that you can display the values reflected in your recommendation!

Be Sensitive of Deadlines

When asking for a letter of recommendation, always ask AT LEAST two weeks in advance of the application deadline. Your recommender is a busy person and is probably writing several recommendations in addition to yours. Give them the time necessary to think about and write a good letter. Don’t be afraid to (politely!) check in with them as the deadline approaches.

Figure Out Who to Ask

There are plenty of people you could ask for a letter of recommendation just at DePaul alone. Professors make great recommenders, especially if you feel like you have had an especially good rapport with them in class. The best letters of recommendation are personal and specific, so a stronger relationship will naturally produce a stronger letter. It’s also important to consider the program that you’re applying for–if you’re applying to a study abroad program, consider asking your foreign language professor who can speak to a relevant set of skills. If you’ve had past supervisors at a job or internship, they can also give recommendations on your value as a team member and employee. Variety is important, too!

Actually Asking

Most professors will be happy to write you a letter of recommendation (assuming you’ve given them enough time!), but you should nonetheless approach the question with politeness and respect. This is a service the recommender is doing for you, after all!

  • A “please” and “thank you” will get you far in life. Always be courteous in your request. If you’re asking through email, begin your message with a formal salutation and end with a closing. Thank the recommender for their time and ask if there’s anything you can do for them.
    • Thank the recommender throughout the process. Thank them for their consideration and thank them after you have submitted the application. Time is valuable!
  • It never hurts to give some information about yourself and why you’re asking this specific person for a recommendation, especially if this is a professor you have had in the past. Emphasize why you think this person could give a good reflection of your character and skills.
    • Attach your resumé to your request!
  • Additionally, give the recommender information about the application. What is the employer or recruiter looking for? What are the responsibilities? This helps the recommender tailor a letter that fits the specific position.
  • If there’s an external service or recipient to whom the letter needs to be sent, give that information to the recommender as well. Different applications have different rules for submitting.

Keep Them in the Loop

Keep your recommender(s) in the loop throughout the application process. If you do get the position, that’s a great thing to share with anyone who wrote you a letter of recommendation! Professionalism is often about how we conduct ourselves and the relationships we form with other people. Showing others respect is a sign of maturity and emotional intelligence, both of which are important to the future of your career!

I hope that these are some helpful tips to get you started on asking for letters of recommendation. The most crucial thing to keep in mind really is courtesy. Remember that this is a request and that any recommender is choosing to help you out. Best of luck in your pursuits!

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