When considering asking someone to write a reference letter for you, take some time to think carefully about both the reader of the letter and your relationship with the writer of the letter.
Who you will ask will depend on the type of letter you require, which I will cover in more detail later in this book, but in general, you need to consider these basic guidelines.
Who Should I Ask to Write the Letter for Me?
You should ask someone who:
- Would be comfortable writing a letter for you.
- Writes well and easily.
- Has experience writing reference letters.
- Is familiar with you, your work, abilities, qualifications, interests, skills, hobbies, etc.
- Knows you well enough to be able to include personal stories about you in the letter.
- Ideally choose someone who has extensive, professional or business experience.
How Should I Ask Them?
- You should follow these basic guidelines when considering how to ask for a reference letter:
- Be straightforward when requesting any reference letter;
- Explain the importance of the letter and exactly why (and when) the letter is required.
- Whenever possible, try to get a sense of the writer’s comfort level before actually making your request.
- Never put your writer on the spot.
- Always offer to provide them with information that will make writing your letter as easy as possible. You may even want to offer to compose the letter yourself for the writer to simply sign.
- If they will be writing the letter entirely themselves, offer them a copy of this book to be used as their guideline. Refer them to the specific sections of the book that are relevant to the type of letter they will be writing.
When Should I Ask Them?
Every situation is different, of course, but in general, the more time you allow the writer to complete the letter, the better. As a general rule of thumb, you should request your letter at least a month in advance – two if possible.
Remember, this person is doing you a favor, and if at all possible, time should be on their side. Asking someone to “hurry” when writing your reference letter is a good way to write yourself out of a good recommendation!
Other Important Points to Consider when Asking Someone to Write a Reference Letter for You
- You should carefully communicate with the people who agree to write your letters. Tell them about your goals and what they might write that would help you to achieve those goals. Now is not the time to be shy! As I pointed out earlier, a reference letter is simply a sales letter that is intended to “sell you” as a person. Now is the time to step up to the plate and point out all of your accomplishments! You can be shy another time!
“Sell yourself, but don’t ever show a hint of arrogance.”
- You should follow up your request for a reference letter (in writing) with a review of your conversation. Include specific phrases or sentences that the writer could use in your reference letter. Be sure to also include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your writer’s convenience.
- If you don’t receive your reference letters within 10 days of your conversations with your prospective writers, contact them by telephone or in person to confirm that they are aware of your deadlines.
- Follow up with each writer to let them know about your results and how much their reference letters helped you attain your goal(s).
- Always thank the writer(s) of your references letters for investing their time on your behalf, in pursuit of your desired future.