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Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

Think through who and why you are asking someone to write a letter of recommendation. It is important to have a personalized and positive letter that can comment on your skillset and accomplishments, rather than a generic letter. Additionally, it’s very important to plan ahead because recommendations have a lot of other responsibilities they are balancing. If you have any questions about the letter of recommendation process or would like more information about another professional development or career topic, contact our Undergraduate Advisors: Ali Mayer and Amy Rasor.  

 

Each application is going to be different and requires unique instructions. Small details are truly important and, if they are missed, it may imply that you are not serious about the application. An application may require a recommendation from someone who can talk about your academic performance, work ethic, skill sets, or talents. Paying attention to the directions showcases that you are taking the time to be thorough.

If you are applying to an academic program or job position, they may ask for various types of recommendations. When thinking about who can write a positive and well-written letter of recommendation for you, think through who would be the best qualified to comment on your specific skills and talents. It’s important to build and foster relationships with professors, supervisors, and mentors. A good way to do this is by talking with professors after class or asking to attend office hours to talk about your professional goals. Before asking someone to write a letter, think about their experience in a position and if they would be able to provide a full letter based on their knowledge of the course, curriculum, or position. 

Do not assume that someone would be available or willing to write a reference for you without asking. It’s important to be courteous and ask before you put someone down as a reference. They may not want to be a reference or they may not have the time to write a letter so it could put them in an uncomfortable situation if you do not ask in advance. 

There are great campus resources available at Virginia Tech such as Career and Professional Development. They review resumes and personal statements. They can help you showcase your involvement, achievements, and talents. They will help format your resume to help keep it organized, clear, and clean. Having an updated and edited resume to send to a recommender is going to very beneficial for your recommender but also for your application process. Additionally, they can review and edit your personal statement. They assist many students with graduate school applications and having someone review this statement would be beneficial in many ways.

Give your recommender enough time and space to write a positive, well-written, and thoughtful letter on your behalf. If you ask too late, they may feel rushed and are not able to put in the time you both would have preferred.Be respectful and give the recommender, at least, a week's notice.

When asking someone to write a letter on your behalf, it is helpful to provide them with a list of positions or programs you are applying to. Providing a list is important so they know how many letters they need to write. A recommender will want to personalize a letter to a company or university, if they have the time and information. If you are applying to more than one position or program, it’s important to give deadlines so they know how long they have for each letter. These deadlines may be written in an email, so your recommender can easily refer back to it, or in a spreadsheet, where you could make additional notes, if needed. Most programs have specific directions for online submissions and it’s crucial that they have the links or contact information in advance. A lot of programs or positions will send reference links directly to recommenders; make sure they have been sent the links in advance. Sometimes the links will go to spam folders so it is always important to double-check!

If there are detailed directions, be sure to note this in your email or spreadsheet to your recommender. Some programs or positions want letters sealed and mailed, emailed, or submitted on a link. If it needs to be mailed, give the recommender additional time to ensure your recommendation arrives on time. Additionally, some letters may need to answer specific questions based on what the program or position wants in the letter. If there are specific questions, communicate this information because it will take additional time to answer those.

It is really important to give your recommender a current resume. Do not assume they already have a copy. It’s important to make sure they are referencing the most updated version of your resume. Having a copy of your resume will help your recommender tailor the letter to your talents and abilities.

When sending the recommender your resume, it is also important to send information about the program/position. This way, your recommender is able to customize the letter to talk about how you would do well in that particular program or position. Additionally, it is important for your recommender to use similar verbiage and keywords that are used in the program description in your letter. The more information your recommendar has on the program, the more likely they'll be able to showcase your strengths and match them to the position requirements.

It is helpful to explain why you are interested in a specific program or position. This helps the recommender understand why you are applying and passionate about this university or company. Writing a small statement about what you are hoping to learn from the experience, how the program is a good fit for you, and why you are passionate is very helpful. The more details you provide about your interest are very beneficial. Additionally, if you feel comfortable sharing your personal statement with your recommender that is a great resource for them to reference when writing. 

It’s a personal gesture to offer to meet either in person, over zoom, or a phone call. This is helpful to the recommender if they have several questions that could be better answered over a meeting than going back and forth over email. Due to COVID guidelines, it may be easier to meet over zoom.

If you have not heard from your recommender and it’s nearing the submission deadline, you can politely email them and ask if they have any additional questions or need any more information for the letter. They may have already blocked out time to write the letter and were waiting until the final deadline. Please remember to always give grace and assume good intent.

It is polite to follow-up and thank your recommender for taking the time to write the letter. Also, recommenders appreciate knowing the outcome of the position. Even if you did not get into the program or the position, it is good for them to know so they can continue to be a support system and write future recommendations.