Asking for a Letter of Recommendation the Right Way
Is the competition so high that you’re worried whether you’ll get the job or not? Are you wishing that you had someone on the inside to vouch for you as the best candidate?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many candidates experience the same as they go through the job hunting process.
The good thing is that there is always a way out of any situation.
For the job you are applying for, there is something you can do to increase your chances of getting hired.
What can you do?
Get a letter of recommendation.
As simple as that sounds, it can be what is needed to get you moving forward.
A letter of recommendation can be the small weight needed to tip the scales in your favor.
LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION VS REFERENCES
Letters of recommendation are currently not as common as they used to be.
Different reasons can be given about their supposed demise but the important thing is the role they serve.
Did they get replaced by something else?
The biggest reason for their unpopularity is that recruiters and hiring managers generally didn’t see the need for these letters.
As the name suggests, a letter of recommendation is a letter whose contents recommend you for a particular position. It says that you are a good candidate for something.
That may be a job position, a college admission or even scholarship.
It is written by someone who has interacted with you for long enough to know you. They have watched you or worked with you and can testify to certain strengths which you have. They thus mention these strengths to show your suitability for the job.
References on the other hand are a list of people who can be contacted for questions about you.
This list is usually a part of your CV or resume.
The hiring manager will contact these people and ask them questions which will help determine your suitability.
Of the two, hiring managers would prefer references because they will be the ones in control of the conversation. They will be the ones asking the questions.
A letter of recommendation will not give them this opportunity.
Instead, it just goes ahead to highlight all your strengths.
WHAT LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION DO
The fact that a letter of recommendation works like a one-way street of communication is what really gives it power.
More than that, there is also a lot of weight in the content, especially if it’s written by the right person.
Although the letter worked well enough for the interviewers initially, it actually served the candidates better.
This purpose still stands and is what makes it a worthy tool to consider using.
Though your application can still include references, the extra letter will certainly add value. It will have an impact on the mind of those going through your application.
Here are three things that a letter of recommendation does for you.
Reinforces Your Resume
A letter of recommendation is a serious backing of the truth in your resume. Everything you have said in your resume gets an outsider’s approval mark.
It’s one thing to say the right things and answer all the questions as expected. But when someone else, neither family nor friend says good things about you, it’s different.
When someone writes a letter of recommendation for you, they are testifying to what you can do. They are saying that they have witnessed you working diligently. They have seen your natural team player or team leader abilities.
So when the recruiter sees these things written in the letter and they appear on your resume, they know it is true. As they call your list of references, you already have a good standing in their minds.
Sub-consciously, they already expect to hear nothing but similar comments.
That means you have been pre-qualified in their minds.
Boosts Your Confidence
A letter of recommendation is a big confidence booster. It is like someone giving you a big compliment when you need it most.
Let’s face it. Once you apply for a job, anxiety kicks in.
When you get the call for an interview, the anxiety can increase. With every stage in the process, you get closer to the goal. At the same time, you get more concerned about your chances of success.
What a letter of recommendation does is to reduce this anxiety. It reminds you of what someone else thinks of your abilities. It reminds you that someone else knows and testifies to your suitability for the job.
More importantly, after receiving the requested letter of recommendation, just reading it can give you lots of confidence.
When you see what someone else has to say about you, you get motivated to go ahead and prove that as part of your application.
And when you know that this is what the interviewer has read, you know that you have achieved some favor in their eyes.
Shows Your Personality
Letters of recommendation have a personal touch to them.
This is because the people writing them have spent time with you. There are shared moments, victories and successes.
These are what the person writing the letter will be expressing.
Take the example of a former supervisor or manager of the department you worked in at your former job. This is someone who enjoyed seeing the results you contributed to.
Was happy with your level of sacrifice and accuracy of reports.
They loved your communication style and mannerisms.
This is obviously assuming that these are the characteristics you portrayed. And also assuming that you left the company while in good terms with him.
When such a person writes a letter recommending your suitability, it’s going to communicate these things perfectly. The letter will tell your prospective employer the real value you brought to the team.
Hiring managers can pick your personality from such a letter. And this can go a long way in showing them how much of a fit you are for their company.
When later asked about your personality later, it will be more of confirming what they have already read.
HOW TO ASK FOR A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION
At this point, there are many questions which will naturally cross your mind.
Who will write a good letter for me? What will they say? Will they be willing to do it?
Depending on your relationships and even your personality, you may have more questions. But it all comes down to how to go about asking for the letter.
Who will you ask?
This letter serves as a testimony of your suitability. As such, it is not just anyone who will be willing to write it for you.
You should therefore be ready to have the request turned down.
It’s important that you don’t take such a response personally.
There might be various reasons for the reluctance. Maybe someone is just not comfortable putting his name on the line. Maybe he has been requested to do it for several other people.
Maybe he has written letters for others then they did something wrong.
For this reason, it is wise to come up with a list of people to communicate your request to. From the list, you can be sure that not all of them will say no.
But at least, if some of them do, there will be others who will do it. Don’t rely only on one person.
It is best to ask for a letter of recommendation from people who are in some way, above you.
This might be in age, in position at work, social status etc.
The more prominent the person is in the eyes of the hiring manager, the better the chances of their testimony being embraced.
These people can be anyone from doctors, former bosses, a professor in college, business associates, customers, the list is endless.
While making this list, keep the following in mind:
1. They should know you and your work.
The person must have some evidence for what they will write. You cannot have positive comments from, say, a neighbor who only knows you because you live next door.
This person must have interacted with you, hopefully, at a personal level. They must know what working with you is like. What communicating with you is like.
How reliable you are. Whether you finish what you start.
These are the things which matter in a practical relationship of any kind.
2. They should be people who like you.
This is quite obvious and should not be ignored in an attempt to get a letter from the most notable person.
That most notable person may not have had a particular liking for you. That can be dangerous.
Just because you worked in his organization and he promoted you doesn’t automatically mean he liked you.
Check what kind of relationship you had with him.
If all you did was get instructions and give reports, that is probably not the best person to write a letter for you.
3. Consider their position.
The position of the person writing the letter can have an impact on your letter’s admission.
For example, you may be applying for a job as a logistics officer. A letter from a logistics manager will have more weight than one from a finance director.
The former will be able to state relevant facts which your potential new logistics manager will relate with. This will make it easy for the company you are interviewing for to consider the letter’s contents.
4. Call them up.
It’s interesting how the uptake of technology has blurred formalities in communication.
It is not rare for recruiters to come across resumes containing slang and abbreviations.
The language used in chatting finds its way into formal communication.
In other cases, the casual nature of workplace relations makes some approach serious matters casually. Requesting for a letter of recommendation should not be done via text.
This is an indication of the little value you put on the work the person will put in.
Even if you are close friends, it is important that you call that person up. This is even before you send them an email.
A phone conversation will work better in explaining your need and provide an opportunity for questions.
Then you can follow up the request with an email.
Appreciate Them Before Making Your Request
You have to consider that writing a letter of recommendation is not a small thing. As mentioned, the person will be putting their name on the line for you.
As such, don’t just go straight into asking for the letter. Let the person know why you chose him.
Tell the person that you appreciate the relationship you have enjoyed with him. Tell him that you are asking him for the letter since you value his opinion.
Let him know that you have considered him vital for your career growth.
Note that this is not flattery. And do not flatter. If what you intend to say is not true, don’t make the request to that person. You don’t have the relationship to back it.
As humans, we love being appreciated.
And when you appreciate the person before he writes you the letter, he feels the value you put on him. If he grants your request, he will do it knowing that his opinion has a lot of value to you.
Tell Them What to Highlight
Writing a letter of recommendation is not an easy task. The person may not know what exactly you want them to write. This can be confusing and turn a desire to help you into a burden.
To avoid this, you need to help them by pointing out what to talk about in the letter.
This will also make sense because you want the letter to be relevant to the job you are applying for.
You don’t want a letter showing your prowess in sports going to a recruiter for a job in software programming.
If it’s a while since you communicated, it will be good to update them on your life.
Have you taken new courses? Have you gone through other jobs? Whatever information is necessary, share it with them.
More importantly, remind them of any projects you undertook under their leadership. Or in partnership with them.
Mention the success and allow them to remember the mutual joy of working with you. These are the things you want in that letter.
Promise to email them a list of the things you would like them to highlight and do so. Check the description of the job you are applying for.
From it, pick the important factors and let them inform the list of what is to be highlighted.
Give Them Time
People are busy and the last thing they might prioritize is someone else’s problems. With all the challenges of life, you shouldn’t rush anyone to sort you out.
Giving some time to the people who have agreed to write you a letter of recommendation is a necessity. Otherwise you might be labeled pushy.
You might get someone angry and make them change their mind about what they had gladly decided to do.
Alternatively, they may still do it but not as well as they would have done. You want the best words on that letter so facilitate it.
As much as possible, make your request as early as 2 months prior to your need for it. Since jobs are advertized daily, you might consider this as a tactic for the long-term.
This will however only work if the job you are applying for has a long deadline. When that is not the case, this will not work.
You can however try to request the letter and explain the urgency. If the person is willing, he can prioritize it.
For the sake of saving time, you can ask for the letter and use it for future job applications.
This means having the letters at hand and using them for jobs where they are relevant.
All you need to do is make your request to specific people and have them right specific things. It will then be a matter of picking the right letter for the right job.
Send a Reminder
After calling up the person and sending them an email with details of what to write, don’t just sit and wait.
You might wake up on the last day only to realize the person has traveled and is unavailable.
Set reminders on your calendar and send a reminder email to him. You can do this 2 weeks after the initial communication. That will be a perfect duration to have waited.
In case you don’t get the letter within 2 other weeks, you can send him a follow-up email. In these emails, be careful not to jump straight into the reason for writing.
Cultivate your friendship further and ask to also know how they are fairing.
Depending on what they give as the reason for the delayed writing, you can choose to call them up next time. Or even visit them in their office.
The importance of practicing gratitude can never be over-emphasized.
Just as you appreciated him before making the request, do the same thing after getting what you wanted. And remember to be honest in your appreciation.
Since you will have read the letter they wrote, mention how well they have communicated your strengths.
Mention something specific about the letter and thank them for their time and effort.
Thanking them can take various forms. The more physical the better.
If you can buy a card, that would be great. Nothing will remind him of his kindness better than this.
In case this isn’t very viable, you can easily do an email. But just as you had to call them up at the beginning, make sure you also make a “Thanks You ”call.
Example Email of How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation
With the above tips to follow, it will be best to show you how to put it into practice.
Below is an example you can use. You can also use it as a template to make things easier for you.
Dear [Title and Name e.g. Prof. Higgins],
I trust that you are doing great.
Following our conversation two days ago, here is the email I promised to send you. Receive once again my appreciation for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for me.
Since graduating three years ago, I have worked at [Company Name] starting as an assistant sales manager. I currently hold the manager’s position thanks to the concerted effort the team puts in. I can’t help but remember how you urged me to become the class representative during my course. That definitely helped instill leadership skills in me.
As for the job I’m applying for, these same skills are needed. But more than that, specific requirements are mentioned in the job advertisement. These are what I request that you touch on as you base your comments on my performance while in campus.
- Ability to lead a group to achieve a common goal
- Creativity in developing solutions
- Communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Critical thinking skills
The position I am eyeing is higher than my current one and requires reporting directly to the CEO. As such, communication and critical thinking skills are important. I think the person hired may be involved in developing policies for both the department and the company.
Considering your busy schedule, I would not want to rush you into this. I would obviously appreciate a response as early as possible though won’t have a problem checking with you in around two weeks.
Once again, I am grateful for the honor of receiving a letter of recommendation from you. I pray that your days ahead will be full of joy and satisfaction as you instill wisdom into your students.
A letter of recommendation can provide an unexpected boost to your chances of getting hired.
And since they aren’t utilized so much nowadays, it means there won’t be many candidates presenting them. You might even be the only one.
So go ahead and get one or several for your job application. Keep copies for possible future use and see yourself trample the competition.
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