3 Tips For Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation do matter, especially if you are applying for jobs where there is a lot of competition from other qualified candidates. Strong letters can help you stand out from the pack. Some people find it nerve-wracking to ask for recommendation letters, but your supervisors and professors are used to writing such letters and consider doing so part of their jobs.

Give some thought to who will write you the most effective letters. Here are three tips for getting letters that will help open the door into your next job.

1. Pick people who will give you a strong recommendation.

Of course you want to avoid asking for recommendations from people who dislike you or have a low opinion of your work. If you've had the misfortune of working with such people, you probably know who they are. What may be more difficult is distinguishing between people who might write positive, but bland letters that won't hurt you, but won't help you much either – and those who can write strong, enthusiastic letters that will be a big boost in your job hunt.

Whenever possible, ask for letters from people who know you well. It's better to get a letter from an immediate supervisor who has worked closely with you and is impressed with your work than from someone several steps higher in the organization's hierarchy, who may be more famous in your field but who could only write about you using vague, generic statements.

If you have any doubt about whether someone will write you a strong recommendation, it's okay to ask them, as awkward as that may seem.

2. Pick someone who can address your relevant experience

Like many people, you may have a variety of work and academic experiences. While all your recommenders may be able to write about your intelligence and your work ethics, make sure that at least some of your recommenders can write specifically about your work in the field you are entering.

It's also helpful if the person writing the recommendation and the person reading the recommendation are in positions where they easily understand and respect each other. For example, if you are applying for an academic job, most of your references should be from professors. If you are applying for a corporate job, and you already have corporate work experience, get a recommendation from someone who can speak to your potential new boss as a peer.

3. Make your recommenders' job easier

Help your recommenders to help you. Give them plenty of time to think about and write your recommendation. A month's advance notice, if possible, would be ideal. Give them a copy of your resume and any other documents that might be helpful. Also give them descriptions of the positions you are applying for, so that they will know what to emphasize in their letters. If they are unfamiliar with the organizations where you hope to work, provide them with brief background descriptions.

If they are going to be sending the letters via snail mail, make the job easier for them by giving them pre-stamped and pre-addressed envelopes.

After the happy day when you land a job, be sure to get in touch with your recommenders to thank them for their letters. They will want to know that their efforts helped you, and it's courteous to let them know. Also, by going back and thanking them, you will help cement your relationships and assure that your network will continue to help you throughout your career.