Recommendation Letters: How to Ask

Picture this: you have all your application materials filled out and organized, but you can’t hit that submit button- at least not yet because you still need a letter of recommendation (AKA your LOR)!

Now don’t worry, after you have decided who you are going to ask, the actual asking part gets easier. Here are some guidelines that I think would be helpful when and in asking:

1. Plan to ask early!

This first step is (unfortunately) overlooked often! You want to give your recommender ample time before your deadline to write you a LOR. If not you may end up with (1) a not-so-great generic LOR or (2) your recommender may decline to write you a LOR. These are two outcomes you want to avoid at all costs! Thus, try asking for a LOR at least a month in advance. 

This may seem like a lifetime, but look at it this way: the earlier you ask your recommender for a letter, the more time they will have to think and write. The more time they dedicate to your LOR, the better you letter will be. The better you letter is, the better your chances are of getting that dream job or being accepted into your dream school! This chain can go on forever, but I think you get the point. With everyone’s busy schedules, making time to write a thoughtful, quality letter can be a tricky thing, but if a recommender has sufficient time to do it, you should get a very nice, personalized LOR!

2. Ask them! 

The actual asking part is pretty straight forward- and there are tons of ways to do it! Some people prefer to ask in-person. If you prefer this method, request a meeting or invite your recommender to a coffee run. Asking them in person does seem more personal, but typically I prefer to ask via email. I think email is a great alternative to the in-person meet up, because an email is something you can always refer back to. So, if your recommender needs to double check the deadline you told them about or can’t remember what position you are applying for, they can simply check their inbox and re-read your message. This would be convenient for both parties involved! But the choice is yours, there is no right or wrong way to approach the ‘initial asking stage.’

3. Provide materials!

After you have asked your recommender and they have (hopefully) agreed to write you a LOR, send them all relevant material they may need when writing your letter. This list can include:

  • Your resume
  • Your curriculum vitae 
  • A copy, or draft, of your application materials (i.e. essays, summary of career/educational goals, etc.) 
  • Attachments/Description of the opportunity you are applying for (i.e. scholarship, internship, graduate program, etc.)

You can give hard-copies of these materials to your recommender, or send them electronically. I always find that sending them electronically is more environmentally friendly than the alternative printed version and, there’s less of a chance that the recommender will misplace these documents (because that can happen! They’re people too!)

I would also ask the recommender to “let me know if you need any additional materials from me in order assist you during the writing process.” 

4. Include all submission instructions and deadlines!

Make sure that it is clear to the recommender what you are applying for, what is expected of them (i.e. is there a page limit? A particular format they must follow? Do they have to write the LOR on an official letterhead? Do they submit the LOR electronically on your behalf or email a PDF version to you?). There are many questions that a recommender could potentially have, and if you answer them ahead of time there will be less confusion and everything should go smoothly. With that being said, don’t forget to include the deadline for submission and who/how they should submit the letter. Remember that they are doing you a favor, so you want this process to be as easy, clear and efficient as possible. 

5. Update your recommenders!

After your LOR is submitted, don’t leave your recommender up in the air. Update them, either in-person or via email. Let them know about your progress throughout the application progress, and let them know whether you got it or not. Regardless of the outcome though, always follow-up with your recommender and send them a thank-you note! Let them know how much you appreciate their support throughout this process and keep a communicative and positive relationship with your recommender. 


Hopefully, with this you will get the LOR you’ve always wanted- and that dream job/ school acceptance too!

Until next time,

-E. Lago