Asking for reference letters
- I prefer requests for recommendation letters by email (but other people feel that asking in person is important. I think this can put someone on the spot, which can backfire).
- Don’t ask, “could you write a letter?” Instead ask, “Do you have the time to write a letter supporting my application to graduate school," or some other phrasing to allow the person a graceful out if they do not feel they can write you a strong letter. Ethical letter-writers will be up-front with you if they don't feel their letter will be helpful, but some are afraid of hurting your feelings.
- Describe the degree program or internship or job you need the reference for. Why that opportunity, how you decided, your goals afterward.
- Give the person enough time to write a good letter. Ask at least a month before the due
date. Earlier is better. However, you may ask at short notice if you are exceedingly polite, deferential, and apologetic. If they agree, supply them with everything they need immediately.
- Highlight the due date in multiple ways/places. Send a thank-you email/card in advance of the deadline that casually mentions the due date. Send a reminder if you haven't received confirmation that the letter has been sent.
- Give them ALL materials required: recommendation forms, transcript, essays, program (or job) description or a link to program information.
- If hard copies are required, place all of the materials in a folder and clearly label
each item. Clip each recommendation form to supporting documentation,
relevant admissions essays or job cover letters, and a stamped envelope. Include the deadline on a post-it on top of everything else.
- Ask for advice. If they agree to give you feedback on your cover letter, cv, or application, use it.
- Keep an eye out for signals that they perhaps do not want to write a letter on your behalf. A bad letter can sink your application.
- Let your writer know how it all turned out!