Five Things to Know When Asking for a Recommendation Letter

Maryellen Stohlman-Vanderveen ’19
Contributing Writer

The application process for an internship, graduate program or job can come with a lot of anxiety. More often than not, employers or admissions offices will ask for letters of recommendation in order to gauge your suitability for the position. While asking a professor, employer or mentor for a recommendation may feel much more intimidating than it did in high school when you were much more familiar with your teachers, you should not stress out. Here are five tips that will improve your chances of receiving a standout letter of recommendation.

1. Ask in advance.

Not only is it polite, but it will also improve the chances that your recommender will agree to write a letter for you. Aim to ask your recommenders about four weeks ahead of time to guarantee that they have enough time to write a personalized letter.

2. Make sure you have a personal connection with the recommender.

A personal connection with your professor is more important than receiving an “A” in your prospective recommender’s class. A compelling letter of recommendation contains personal anecdotes and speaks to your strengths as  both a student and a person.

3. Find time to meet with the professor individually.

This is important in forming that personal connection that will guarantee an individualized letter. It will also afford you the time to explain what you would like the recommendation letter to focus on. The more details you can provide to the writer of a letter, the better and more personalized the letter can be. If you’re asking a current professor, make sure you go to their office hours or even invite them to meet you for a cup of coffee.

4. Prepare an answer for why they should endorse you.

Oftentimes a letter writer will ask why they should recommend you. Be prepared with a few reasons why you think you are a good candidate for the position, program or school you are applying to. Remember to explain your desire and enthusiasm for what you are applying for; this will further help them to convey your passion in their letter.

5. Consider all your options.

While professors are an obvious choice, employers, coaches and mentors from the community can also provide great letters of recommendation that speak to your character and dedication to things outside the classroom. In fact, it is best to have a variety of recommendations representing various aspects of your life.

Finally, do not forget to thank whomever writes you a letter of recommendation by writing them a personalized and sincere thank you note.

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