Letters of Recommendation

Faculty, staff, and academic advisors take requests for a Letter of Recommendation very seriously.  After all, you the student are asking someone to vouch for your abilities, experience, trustworthiness, and work ethic.  An LOR is more than just verifying what’s on your record, your record should speak for itself.  LOR’s go further to state that you are deserving of a position or acceptance.  In a sense, you’re putting the reputation of the person writing your letter on the line as well.

Below, you’ll find some helpful tips when a potential employer or academic program requests a letter of recommendation.

Preparation.  Asking for a recommendation is, in many ways, a matter of trust.  And trust takes time to build.  A Letter of Recommendation has to be earned.

  • Come up with a shortlist of professors, mentors, or advisors whom you know, have met in person, and who know you relatively well to write the most sincere letter.
  • Request permission from this shortlist well in advance; well before you’re ever in a situation where you need an LOR to meet a quick deadline.  “Hey, would you mind if I put you on my list of references?”  “In case I need it, would you be willing to write me a letter of recommendation?”
  • It’s best to set a meeting and ask for this permission in person, not just a quick email.
  • Ask your potential LOR writer if they have any special needs or materials to write the letter when the time comes; there are many different approaches and policies people have when meeting these requests.  Some professors even have a formalized policy for LORs.
  • Know that it could take several weeks to get a person’s LOR, hence the need to cultivate your shortlist well in advance.  In fact, that’s a great thing to ask when you meet: “How much lead time do you need?”
  • Have your own materials put together well in advance.
    • A formal, well-thought-through email to request a letter from your shortlist.
    • An up-to-date resume, perhaps tailored to the experience the job or program seeks.
    • A “Brag List.” That is, a list of your proud accomplishments that you would not always put on a resume or might not be directly relevant to the program or job you seek.

The Request.  By having the above accomplished, requesting a letter won’t seem like such a big ask.

  • Allow at least 2 weeks turnaround, but 2 to 3 weeks is more reasonable, from the time of your request.  It’s best not to seem desperate, and never make a request with language like “…as soon as you can” or “…the deadline is Tuesday” or “quickly” or “if you could expedite this…”
  • Consider even an emailed request as a formal letter.  Impeccable, professional, well-written.  Attach your materials as tailored above to the LOR writer.
  • Be available to talk to the LOR writer in case they have questions about your request.
  • Provide them the information necessary for them to not just write, but submit the letter.  Many employers handle LORs like an official process, like a transcript, which means you may not see it or have to handle it.
    • When handled formally, LORs and similar referrals usually go straight to the requestor or hiring platform.  No LOR writer is simply going to send you some text to paste in.  So, provide your LOR writer with:
      • The persons name, department or office that the LOR is to be addressed.  A person’s name is best, if available.
      • A street address, office or other information.
      • A usable link.
      • Any password, instructions or access information to a hiring website or service.
      • The deadline that the LOR must be submitted if it is not to be submitted by you.