01/07/2014 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

How Do I Ask for a Recommendation?

silver laptop with yellow paper crumpled and notepad with pencil

While it can be awkward to toot your own horn, it almost certainly feels more awkward to ask someone else to toot that horn for you. If you’ve ever applied to a job, you’ve probably been in the slightly uncomfortable position of asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation. If you feel embarrassed, don’t: a recommendation letter is an essential part of every job candidate’s file—and your recommenders appreciate that.

Once you’ve selected three to five people who know you well to write your references, you’ve got to ask them. Here’s how.

1.  Thank Your References in Advance

Your references are doing you a big favor. They will likely be happy to help you, but you should express your thanks early and often. This is a personal favor, and you should be personal in your request. If you can, ask the writer for this favor in person. If you can’t, send a thoughtful email asking if this person would be comfortable writing a reference for you. Make sure you thank them in advance for their time.

2.  Be Specific About Your Job Search

Give your writers as many details as possible about your job search. The more color you can give, the stronger the letter will be—and it will align more closely with the supporting documents you’ve already created. For example:

Don’t: “I want to be a science teacher.”

Do: “I’m looking to teach chemistry and physics at an independent school. I love the culture and 21st century initiatives of independent schools, particularly as they relate to science and mathematics. I’d also be happy to supervise a dorm, and it would be cool to lead a Robotics Club or coach a Science Olympiad team!”

3.  Set a Deadline for Your References

You might feel bizarre setting a deadline for this favor, particularly if you’re asking a professor or teaching assistant who is used to setting deadlines for you. But it’s important to keep all loose ends tied up, and setting deadlines early can help avoid tension and awkwardness later.

With that said, give your references plenty of time to write your letters. Ask them several weeks in advance. Explain that the independent school hiring season is busiest in January through June, and ask if they are comfortable writing you a letter in the allotted time. If they’re too busy and can’t get you a letter until May, they might not be the best fit for your current search.

Also don't forget to give them instructions on where to send the letters. If they wish for their letter to remain confidential (i.e. they don’t want to send it directly to you for your file), they can send their letters to your Placement Associate.

4.  Reference Refreshers

No matter how well your professor, Head of School, or colleague knows you, they probably only know you in a certain capacity. Help yourself—and your writer!—by including some “refreshers” before they get started. Send them a copy of your resume, a brief list of your goals, and/or your personal statement. They’ll appreciate the help.

5.  Be a Good Correspondent

We know it: responding to emails promptly is not as easy as it sounds. In the case of your reference writers, though, be a good email buddy. Don’t wait to respond to their emails—answer questions promptly, ask for updates as needed, and remember to thank them…profusely!

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