Letters of recommendation are an essential part of the job application process that many candidates neglect. Although few employers require a letter of recommendation unless the job is for a senior-level position where character matters more than skillset, having a letter of recommendation with your application can place you ahead of the competition.
To ask for a letter of recommendation, brainstorm people who can vouch for you and write a positive letter (teacher, coach, or supervisor). Start the chat by telling them how much you’ve enjoyed working with them, ask them for interview tips, or flat-out ask them if you have a close relationship.
Throughout this article, you’ll learn:
- Why you should include a letter of recommendation
- Who you should ask to write the letter
- How to ask for the letter
- How to make the letter of recommendation easy to write
- Why You Should Include a Letter of Recommendation
- Who Should You Ask To Write the Letter?
- Steps To Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
- What To Include in a Letter of Recommendation
Why You Should Include a Letter of Recommendation
Applying for a job is a complex and often tedious process. There’s so much on the line: economic security, future plans, and your ego. Chances are you could be more qualified for the position and still not receive a job offer, and you never know why.
The process is grueling, but including a letter of recommendation with your application packet can help your application rise to the top of the possible hiring stack.
Including a recommendation letter does two things:
It Sets You Apart From the Competition Early
It also shows that you’ll go the extra mile and have earned enough confidence from someone you worked with that they’re willing to spend time writing the letter to vouch for your abilities and your character.
It Gives You Confidence During Your Interview
The difference between being offered the job or not often comes down to chemistry.
Employers seek candidates who are confident but not cocky, determined but not stubborn, and it’s hard to make this differentiation in traits during one interview.
When you walk into an interview armed with what someone else has to say about your previous work experience, you provide the potential employer a better picture of you.
More importantly, the letter of recommendation arms you with the confidence you need to create the necessary chemistry to sell yourself in the interview.
Who Should You Ask To Write the Letter?
Foremost, it’s important to ask someone who can wholeheartedly give you a positive and honest letter of recommendation.
This advice may sound obvious, but many people will ask a supervisor who hasn’t had the best working relationship with the employee to write the letter simply because of the supervisory title. The title of the person writing the letter isn’t nearly as important as the letter’s content.
If You’re in High School or College
In some cases, you’re limited to who you can ask. High school and college students, for example, who are seeking their first career position, often feel at a disadvantage because their experience has been limited to school.
However, teachers and coaches who have spent four years or more pouring themselves into you and watching you grow can often write the best letters.
If You’re Already Employed
If you are already employed, you have several options. You can ask supervisors, team leaders, or other colleagues who can vouch for your accomplishments, work ethic, and character.
These people shouldn’t, however, also be on the list of references you provided to the potential employer. When you can, use different people for each purpose to show a wealth of people who value your work.
The references you provide will take time to speak with either the employer or the Human Resources department to verify your employment.
These people are already taking time out of their day to help you; asking them to also write a letter of recommendation is inconsiderate of their time. It limits the number of people your potential employer will have access to.
While it’s not inherently wrong to ask the references to supply your letter of recommendation, it’s better to ask someone different. No matter who you ask to write this letter to, you also need to make sure they write well.
Finally, you want the person writing the letter, to be honest without adding too much praise. If the recommendation letter feels exaggerated, it raises concerns over legitimacy. So, make sure their recommendation is positive and fair.
Steps To Asking for a Letter of Recommendation
Above all, remember that the person you ask to write this letter is doing you a favor, so the more time you can provide them to compose the letter before you need it, the better.
Presumably, the person(s) you’ll ask is aware of your plans to leave the organization, and they’re happy for you so that you might begin the conversation in several ways:
- Begin a conversation about how much you have enjoyed working with them through the years and discuss how you will miss them in your new position. Follow up by asking if they would be willing to help you get the job by writing a letter of recommendation for you. Although some argue this beginning conversation is simply flattery, if you are sincere, it’ll be well-received.
- Begin a conversation by asking this person to give you some pointers on how to have a successful interview. You cannot go into an interview overprepared, and asking this person for advice keeps them fresh on interview skills and questions too. Then, ask if they would also be willing to write a letter of recommendation to attach to your application or take with you to the interview.
- If you’re already close friends with the person you want to write the letter, just come out and ask if they’ll help you. Most people enjoy helping others, especially someone they’re close to and trust, succeed, so don’t be shy about asking for what you need.
What To Include in a Letter of Recommendation
Even the best writers need inspiration, and while their respect for your abilities, character, or work ethic can provide a start, they need to know what your potential employer is looking for if they’re to write the best letter. They also need to give examples to prove what they’re saying.
You can help them write the best letter by providing a brief resume or a bullet point list of your accomplishments. So, when your colleague agrees to write the letter, ask if a list of talking points and achievements would make writing the letter easier and have it ready for their use.
Include the following things as they pertain to the new position:
- Accomplishments – both personal and professional
- Awards you’ve won – both work-related and personal, if they apply to the new position
- Articles you’ve written – again, if the articles highlight your attributes, work ethic, or character, include the publication title; if not, skip this part
- The training you have led – it’s not as important to mention training you’ve received as part of most jobs; leading training, however, exposes more about your skill set
- Classes you have taken – if you’ve been working full-time while pursuing a degree, mentioning this dual role you have played speaks to your character and work ethic
- Ideas you shared that became policy – the letter doesn’t have to detail this policy but highlighting that you’re willing to notice situations and improve them illustrates a lot about your leadership skills
- Your work history with this person/company – this section is crucial and is particularly strong when examples of what you’ve done while you were there can be included
- A copy of the job posting – this copy will help your colleague write a more individualized letter that’ll appeal to the new company
- Templates – if this is the first time your colleague has been asked to write a letter of recommendation, they may not know where to start, so pointing them to places like ResumeGenius, where Letter of Recommendation templates are available, may prove beneficial
Applying for a job is certainly not for the weak of heart or the unprepared. Having a letter of recommendation with your application and with you at your interview, you can place yourself ahead of the competition.
Ensure that you ask the right people to write the letter and then give them the tools they will need to make it easy for them to write it.
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