RMIKKA/Shutterstock.com

How Not to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

When we work up the courage to ask, we often end up saying the wrong thing.

To land a job or get into a university, we usually need someone to vouch for us. It can be tough to ask—recommenders are typically more senior than us, they’re busy, and we don’t always know where we stand in their eyes. When we work up the courage to ask, sometimes the request comes out polite and charming. But more often than we realize, we end up saying or writing the wrong thing.

Here are some of the most ineffective requests that I’ve seen as a manager and professor, along with a running commentary on what a cynical recommender might read between the lines. My hope is that we’ll all get a little bit more thoughtful about who, how, and when we ask.

1. Although we haven’t talked in seven years, I really value your opinion of me.

I’ve burned a lot of bridges, and I’m desperately hoping enough time has passed that you won’t remember what a jerk I was.

2. I’m not sure if you remember me, but it would be amazing if you could serve as a reference for my application.

Our interactions were so brief that I forgot you existed until just now. But I’m desperate.

3. I’m wondering if you might write me a recommendation letter. It’s due tomorrow.

You really shouldn’t vouch for me (I’m not conscientious, and I procrastinate a lot), and I think little enough of you to ask you to do this last minute. But I’m really desperate.

4. I know we’ve never met in person, but you have a unique perspective on my qualifications.

If you knew me better, you wouldn’t even consider advocating for me. Also, the first dozen people I asked said no.

5. It would be really great to have your name supporting my candidacy.

There are other people who know me much better, but no one respects them (including me).

6. Please write a recommendation letter for me.

I want to think I’m hot stuff, but really I’m a doofus. If I ask, you’ll probably turn me down. If I frame it as a command, maybe you’ll be intimidated into agreeing.

7. Thank you for your advice on my resume and cover letter last week. You can send your recommendation letter to this address.

I neglected to do my homework when we spoke, and didn’t realize I would need a recommendation. Maybe you won’t recall that I never asked.

8. Are you in a position to write me a glowing letter?

I trust you enough to say nice things about me, but only if they’re really nice. Before I give you the privilege of writing on my behalf, I really need to know what you think of me.

9. You can send the letter to me, and I’ll mail it in.

I’m going to read it first to see if I like it.

10. The application requires three recommendation letters, but I’ve decided to submit four.

I’m hedging my bets in case one of my references trashes me or drops the ball.

11. The application requires three letters, and I’m excited to submit five.

There’s no way three people can possibly capture the full extent of my greatness.

12. To save you some time, I’ve taken the liberty of drafting the letter for you.

I seriously doubt your ability to sing my praises—and I am seriously more awesome than you think I am.

13. It’s a highly competitive pool, and I want the hiring committee to know about my unique strengths, so here's a list of my proudest achievements over the past decade.

I’m feeling highly insecure, and I don’t know if my dad can pull any strings this time. Please include every impressive thing I’ve ever done, including the time I dominated the Springfield-Harbortown Elementary Spelling Bee. "Intravert" is a totally acceptable spelling.

By contrast, here’s one of the best recommendation requests I’ve ever seen:

“I was hoping you would be willing to write me a letter of recommendation because I have interacted with you over the past couple of years more than with any other professor here. I have made countless mistakes as a team leader, including micromanaging in our first weeks as a club, not giving proper feedback to my teammates about their performance, and not being able to defuse tension at board meetings. But I have also grown tremendously, especially with the help of your advice on…”

(Image via RMIKKA/Shutterstock.com)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.