by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17
Letters of recommendation are sometimes required when you’re applying for a job, a graduate study program, or even for Champlain’s Study Abroad program. To get into college, you more than likely had to ask someone for a letter of recommendation. This letter, if you still have it, can no longer be used when applying to other things because it’s out of date! You’re in college now, and that means you need a recommendation from a professor you’ve recently had/still have or supervisor at your current job.
So how do you go about getting a letter of recommendation? There are multiple steps – lucky 13 to be exact.
- When do you need the recommendation? Ideally, you’ll send requests 4-5 weeks before you need them. This allows plenty of time for them to write the letter. Your professors and supervisors are very busy people, so don’t come to them last minute and expect anything more than a rushed “No.”
- Who do you want to recommend you? When considering which professor or supervisor (if you have multiple jobs) to ask, think about how well they know you. Did you do well in their class or on the job? Did you speak to them often after class or during work? You want to go to the professor or supervisor who will give you the most genuine and passionate recommendation.
- Use proper formatting. When you ask for a recommendation, you have two main ways to do it. You can email a request if you don’t have frequent contact with them, or you can ask them in person. In an email in particular, it’s important to address the email properly and keep a more formalized tone. If you show them you’re taking this seriously, they will too. “Recommendation for [your name]” should be the email’s subject line.
- Get to the point. In your email or in-person conversation, get right to the point: “I’m writing to request a letter of recommendation…” It can be less formal than this if you know your professor or supervisor well. Ideally, you wouldn’t say, “Yo, dude, can I get that recommendation?” If your professor or supervisor doesn’t already know, tell them your full name, major, year, when the recommendation is due, and why you need it (include a really well-thought out answer for this).
- Tell them why. Being selected to write a recommendation can be a humbling or rewarding experience for your professors or supervisors. Tell them in a paragraph or two why you thought they would be the best person to write you a recommendation. If they in particular influenced you to apply for whatever is requiring you to seek this recommendation in the first place, tell them!
- Give them any relevant information. Mention clubs you’ve been involved with, causes you’ve supported, or projects you’ve done, that way they have a base of knowledge they can draw from in their recommendation.
- Attach a resume. If you’re requesting the letter of recommendation in person, print copies of your resume to hand out.
- Explain the process. If they need to send the letter of recommendation somewhere after they write it, be sure to include the email address or an addressed and stamped envelope for them. Make sure they know the deadline and what exactly you need from them. You want to go to lengths to show that you have been considerate of their time by taking care of the small details.
- How will you follow-up? In your email or in person, you need to mention you’re plan for following up. There’s always a chance they won’t respond or won’t submit the letter when they said they would. Figure out how long you will give them to respond or turn the letter in (and make sure you explain how and where they need to submit it!) and commit to following up at that time in your email/conversation. You can’t simply send off an email and then assume your job is done. You have to nurture the process from start to finish.
- Thank them. Even if they ultimately decline to write you a letter of recommendation, thank them for their time and consideration regardless.
- Follow-up. Whatever you said you’d do in your email or oral request, do it. Send them a reminder or another email if you never heard a response or know the letter hasn’t been turned in yet. Don’t be too pushy, but it’s okay to let them know you’re running on a deadline. If someone says “yes” and then declines shortly before the deadline, ask someone else, explaining the situation while being sure to not badmouth whoever dropped the ball.
- Make sure your recommendation was received. Especially if your professor or supervisor was responsible for turning it in on their own, you need to make sure it was indeed turned in a day or two before the deadline. And in the worst case scenario – you call and it hasn’t been turned in yet – write a brief but powerful email requesting your professor or supervisor complete the letter of recommendation (if they agreed to in the first place) and offer to pay for overnight shipping. If no one agreed to write one and it’s a day before the deadline, that’s your fault. You can still ask around for a recommendation, but ideally you would have only waited so long to take action if you’d already received a firm “yes.”
- Send a written “thank you” note. Even if you can hand it to them in class or at work, send it through the postal service for an added touch. If you got whatever you were applying for, make sure to tell them!
And that’s how you ask for a letter of recommendation. Easy enough, right?
Sources: Northeastern University / Wikihow