How NOT to Ask for a Recommendation

recommendationAs a college student or young professional, you might find yourself in the position of needing a recommendation or a reference. And sometimes, this is easier said than done.

Figuring out who to ask is just the first part of the process. Whether it’s a professor, an advisor, or a boss, how you ask can determine the quality of the recommendation you receive. And a bad ask can spell disaster.

As an alumnae advisor for my sorority, I see my fair share of recommendation requests for scholarships, grad school applications and job applications. Here is an actual request I recently received:

Hi Lauren,

My name is Taylor Smith and I am a member of your sorority. I was told by Sara* that you could write me a supporting letter for the Escondido scholarship. I would appreciate if you could do this for me!



First Problem: The Introduction

“My name is…”

If you have to start a request introducing yourself you should not be asking that person for a recommendation. If you have to introduce yourself, the recipient does not know enough about you to write the stellar recommendation that you need.

Instead, ask for a recommendation from a professor or supervisor who you’ve developed a relationship with. If you can’t think of anyone then you have a bigger problem, and you need to start, now, to develop those relationships.

The Non-Ask Ask

I was told by Sara that you could write me a supporting letter…’

This other person does not speak for me. Plain and simple. I previously agreed to write a letter for Sara, but that does not mean I can or will write one for you. This is the sentence that sent me into a white-hot rage. It shows that the requestor does not respect my time. It also shows a level of immaturity not worthy of a recommendation.

Instead, ask for a recommendation letter directly with something like ‘I was hoping you’d be willing to write a letter of recommendation on my behalf.’  

The Important Information

“…for the Escondido scholarship”

The details regarding the recommendation are the most important pieces of a request. This sentence tells me nothing. What scholarship? Who am I writing to? When is it due? Where do I need to send it? If you haven’t answered the basic questions then you’ve done something wrong.

Instead, put yourself in the shoes of your recommender and try to answer the questions they might ask.  Provide all relevant information and links for any online forms they might need. The easier you make it for someone, the more likely they will oblige and write you a glowing recommendation.

The Missing Piece

This email was missing very vital information: the resume and/or a link to the LinkedIn profile.

In order to get that stand out recommendation you need to show off all of your skills to the person is writing it for you. Chances are the professor or advisor doesn’t know about your leadership experience in your extracurriculars, or your management position at your job, or the skills you learned at your internship. You must fill in the blanks!

Do all the groundwork yourself. Attach your resume. Provide your LinkedIn profile. Supply any other relevant information, like a personal statement, for their convenience.

The Thank You

This person did one thing right. She thanked me in advance. Make sure you are gracious and profuse in your thanks when you ask. It is also a good idea to send a thank you note after you get your recommendation.

When asking for a recommendation, follow these guidelines. You’ll not only get a higher percentage of “of course!” responses, you’ll get higher quality recommendations and referrals!

* All names have been changed.


LaurenK_AuthorAbout the Author: Lauren Kirkpatrick is YouTern’s Social Media Manager. She graduated from San Diego State in 2011 with a Bachelors degree in Public Relations and the University of Southern California in 2013, with a Masters degree in Digital Media. In her personal life, Lauren is never more than 3 feet from her iPhone or Macbook – she says “they have their own side of the bed” (and our guess is they probably also have their own iNames!). Lauren is a sports junkie, TV aficionado, and expert baker. Follow Lauren on Twitter!



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