Asking for Letters of Recommendation: Professional References

Regardless of whether you would like to pursue a career in academia, research, or elsewhere, you will likely need at least one letter of recommendation to apply for your first job out of graduate school. You may have some fuzzy memories of requesting letters of recommendation from previous professors way back when you applied to grad school, but you may need a reminder about how to ask for letters of recommendation.

Whom to Ask

You can ask professors, employers, and colleagues for letters of recommendation. Choose professors who know you from courses in which you performed well. Professors must not only know your name but must also have spoken with you outside of class. It helps if you have taken more than one course with professors whom you choose to ask. Ideally, you would like your professors to write letters with specific information that is unique to your accomplishments and personal characteristics. If you ask employers or colleagues to write letters for you, be sure to select people who hold professional expertise in a field relevant to the position to which you are applying.

When to Ask

Make sure that you give those who are writing your letters plenty of time to write their references for you. You do not want rush your references, so don’t wait until the last minute to ask. If you can, send your requests for letters of recommendation 5–6 weeks before you must receive the letters. If you do not have that much time, certainly send the requests as soon as possible.

How to Ask

Tell those you’ve asked why you are requesting letters of recommendation from them. Most likely, you chose them because you recognized their roles or contributions to your field and because you value their opinions of you. You should provide the people who are writing your letters of recommendation with a current copy of your CV so that they can incorporate some of your accomplishments in their letters. You should conclude your recommendation requests by giving people the opportunity to decline writing your letters of recommendation for any reason and by offering further assistance with the task if they do agree. If they agree to write your letters, do not forget to thank them for their time and efforts.

Requesting letters of recommendation will be much less daunting if you have already developed a positive rapport with the person over time. Hopefully, you have been building an academic relationship with several of your professors and other academic administration since you started your graduate program, which could reduce some of the pressure of asking for letters of recommendation.

 
 

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