How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

A letter of recommendation is an obligatory document if you want to apply to graduate school or land a dream job. But we all know that asking for a letter of recommendation is highly nerve-wracking.

Your communication skills must be excellent to approach someone and ask them to write a letter on your behalf. It can be even more daunting if you haven’t spoken to them in a while. So what can you do to succeed in this mission?

If you need help to make the first step, the following discussion can guide you to ask for a recommendation letter appropriately. Before delving deeper into each point, let’s discover some types of recommendation letters below.

Types of Letters of Recommendation

Someone may ask for a recommendation letter for specific purposes. So you also have to define your purpose when asking for one. Generally, there are three types of recommendation letters, which are:

Academic Letters of Recommendation: These are letters written by professors, academic advisors, or other educators who can explain your academic abilities and potential.

Typically those who want to apply for a graduate class or scholarship need this type of recommendation letter.

Professional Letters of Recommendation: These are letters written by supervisors, managers, or colleagues who can attest to your work performance and professional skills.

They highlight your achievements, leadership abilities, communication skills, and suitability during your time in their company.

For example, if you want to apply for a job in an explainer video company, a letter of recommendation from relevant industry professionals can provide comprehensive insights about your skills and achievements.

Character Letters of Recommendation: These are letters written by individuals who know you personally, such as family members, friends, or community leaders.

They focus on your personal qualities, such as integrity, compassion, and resilience, and can speak to your character and moral fiber.

These letters are often used when an individual’s character and values are essential, such as for volunteer work, community service, ethics-based professions, or character-based scholarships.

Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

Now, the remaining question is, ‘how can I ask for a letter of recommendation?’ The following guide can help you make a good start and sail a smooth journey when asking for a letter of recommendation.

Best of all, the following points apply to whatever recommendation letter you’re asking for, whether you want to pursue a higher degree or a new career. Let’s check each of them.

#1. Define Your Main Purpose

Defining your primary purpose shouldn’t be a time-consuming task. You can identify your purpose immediately if you understand the different types of recommendation letters.

If you understand your purpose, you can seek relevant persons you want to approach. For example, if you plan to apply for a scholarship, your professors or lecturers at your university are relevant people to write a letter of recommendation.

However, if you are hunting for a new job, asking for a recommendation letter from your team leader or company’s stakeholders can be beneficial. It will enhance your job application and give you a higher possibility of passing.

A tip is to approach people who know you personally so that they can spell out your positive traits and achievements relevant to your purpose.

#2. Build a Connection with the Right Person

Building connections is a tricky part of the journey, especially if you haven’t communicated with the person for a while. This case mostly happens for those who want to ask for an academic recommendation letter.

Often those who want to pursue a higher degree or apply for a scholarship must ask for a recommendation letter from their professors. If you haven’t spoken to them for a while, here’s a list of tips you can try:

  • Plan for the timing
  • Reach out to them and explain your purpose/request by email
  • Ask for a personal meeting, and follow their preferred schedule
  • Tell more details in a personal meeting
  • Provide supporting materials, such as a transcript, list of achievements, and personal statement
  • Don’t rush, and be respectful

You can contact their assistants if you don’t get any reply from their emails. Most professors at universities have assistants that you can talk to. In a workplace, your stakeholders most likely have assistants. You can also contact HR managers and team leaders to ask for one.

#3. Make Your Request in Person

A personal meeting is best when asking for a recommendation letter. You can talk comfortably, share your stories, tell your plan, and so on. Face-to-face communication also helps you avoid miscommunication.

A personal meeting is also a way to show respect. From there, you can ask them if you can contact them through calls or messages. If you win them to your side, the communication will run smoothly.

This strategy also applies if you ask for a recommendation letter from your subordinate. Communicate your purpose clearly in person to avoid miscommunication, whether you need a recommendation letter for joining a training program or applying for a new role.

#4. Explain Your Reasons

It is essential to be clear about why you need the letter and what it is for. This information can help the person writing the letter understand what kind of content is expected and how to structure the letter.

You can provide context and highlight your relevant skills and experiences. Give the person writing the letter some background information about the opportunity you are applying for. Explain why it is essential and how it fits into your career or academic goals.

Let the person know the exact details of the opportunity, such as the name of the job, scholarship, or graduate program, as well as the deadline for the application. Also, highlight relevant skills according to the opportunity.

This strategy can help the person writing the letter understand what qualities to emphasize in your letter. Lastly, show your gratitude to them. Thank the person for their time and willingness to write the letter. Tell them how much you appreciate their support and the impact their letter can have on your future opportunities.

#5. Provide Relevant Information

Provide relevant information or documents to the person writing the letter. This information can boost your credibility and help them understand your qualifications and strengths. You can help them write a strong and effective letter.

Here are some tips on how to provide relevant information to the person writing your letter of recommendation:

  • Share your resume, CV, or motivation letter.
  • Provide academic transcripts and test scores (if you ask for an academic recommendation letter).
  • Provide a job focus study description (if you’re applying for a new job).
  • Include training or program certificates if you have any.
  • Provide digital and physical copies of your documents.

Organize those documents neatly so the person can scan and read them easily. Include the physical documents in a folder or make the digital copies in one PDF file.

#6. Be Courteous and Respectful

Always be mindful of your attitude. Be courteous and respectful to the person you approach to build a positive relationship. This will increase the likelihood of receiving a positive recommendation letter.

Some tips below can help you show a great attitude and build a good relationship with the person:

Thank them in advance: Start your request by expressing gratitude for their time and effort writing the letter.

Respect their schedule: The person you ask to write the letter may have other responsibilities. Give them enough time to write the letter, and be understanding if they need more time.

Follow up with a thank-you note: After the person has written the letter, follow up with a thank-you note or email. Tell them you received the letter and express your gratitude for their support.

Show respect and professionalism: Communicate respectfully and professionally using a polite tone. It will be better if you thank them in person.


Asking for a letter of recommendation is the first challenge you must conquer to make your dream come true. This document will be beneficial if you’re looking for a new job or continuing your study.

The above points can help you win over the people you want to approach. You can build a positive relationship with them with appropriate approaches. Those are the keys to getting a compelling and credible letter of recommendation.

About the Author:

Andre Oentoro is the founder of Breadnbeyond, an award-winning explainer video production company. He helps businesses increase conversion rates, close more sales, and get positive ROI from explainer videos (in that order).

Twitter: @breadnbeyond

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: Andre Oentoro

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