When you’re fresh out of university or college and ready to embark on your first job search, having a strong letter of recommendation from someone can greatly improve the outcome of your job applications.
Let’s be real, until you have some solid experience to showcase on your resume, prospective employers may need some convincing to believe that you have the skills you claim to possess. And what better way to elicit their trust than to have someone corroborate the skills and achievements on your resume?
With so much riding on it, figuring out how to ask someone for a letter of recommendation can be tricky. Who’s the best person to ask for one? And how do you make sure that the letter you receive is strong enough to catch the recruiter’s attention? In this article, we provide tips to help you gather credible recommendation letters that’ll improve your chances of being hired.
In this article:
A letter of recommendation (LOR) is a letter written by someone to vouch for your skills and abilities and recommend you for a professional or academic position based on what they know about your past performance and attributes.
Most commonly, letters of recommendation are sought by employers before they formally offer you a job or by universities or colleges during the graduate-level admissions process.
Although recommendation letters are not always required as part of the hiring process in North America, they can help you stand out as a candidate in more ways than one, especially when you’re searching for your first job after school.
As a recent graduate, your resume may still be bare-bones and without a lot of work experience to showcase. In such a scenario, the academic achievements, volunteering and part-time work stints listed on your resume might not be enough to convince prospective employers about your skills and ability to work professionally. A strong letter of recommendation can attest to the fact that you possess and have previously put some of the skills the employer is looking for into action.
A positive word from someone else is often worth more than whatever you say about your work.
A recommendation letter from a professor or someone you’ve worked closely with, such as a manager from a part-time job, can add a layer of credibility to your job application. Moreover, it shows that someone in a teaching or managerial capacity was impressed with your work, dedication, or personal ethic and is willing to vouch for you.
Most employers will ask shortlisted candidates for a list of referrals for a background check; only some specifically ask for letters of recommendation. Typically, background checks are aimed at eliminating risk, so the questions your future employer asks may not always provide an opportunity for your referrals to show their appreciation for your skills or talent. On the other hand, with a letter of recommendation, you’re aware of its contents beforehand and know for a fact that it reflects positively on you. So compared to a background check, a recommendation letter gives a greater degree of control on the narrative.
Plus, it shows the hiring manager that you’re interested in the job and willing to go above and beyond to land the role. So don’t hesitate to submit an LOR as an add-on to your job application to impress the hiring manager and improve your chances of landing a job.
For a letter of recommendation to carry weight, it must be from the right person. The author of the letter is just as important as its contents because the writer needs to be in a position to view your performance objectively and share an educated opinion. So, a letter of appreciation from a family member or friend does not count as a recommendation letter, as it is too likely to be biased in your favour.
When deciding who to ask for a letter of recommendation, ask yourself the following questions:
Once you’ve decided who to ask for a recommendation letter, now comes the tricky part. How do you ask a professor or former manager for a letter of recommendation? How much information should you provide them to get the best outcome? Here are some tips to help you make that ask.
Not all recommendation letters are equally good. For your letter of recommendation to have a real impact on the employer’s hiring decision, it needs to be well-written, convincing, relevant, and focused. Here are some tips to ensure your LOR checks all the right boxes and positions you as an ideal candidate for the job.
Just because you worked closely with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’d make for a good recommender. For one, they may not think highly of your work, or know you well enough to recommend you. If you plan to ask a former manager from a part-time job, reflect on how your working relationship was and the terms on which you parted ways before reaching out for a recommendation letter.
It’s essential that you have a positive relationship with the person you’re asking and that they’re willing (and happy) to vouch for you. Avoid asking too many people for letters of recommendation. Instead, choose two or three people you’re most confident about, and have a few backup names lined up.
It’s unrealistic to assume that a professor who taught you one subject in school or a manager you worked part-time with for three months would know all your strengths and achievements. It’s advisable to let them know about the job you’re applying for and send them a copy of your resume so they know what skills to highlight in their letter. You may also want to remind them of any achievements or highlights from your time with them that would look great on your recommendation letter.
You want whoever is writing your recommendation letter to spend time and effort on it, so you receive the best version possible. That means you should make your request at least two or three weeks before you need to send the LOR out to employers. Bear in mind your professors may be getting recommendation letter requests from several graduating students, and your former managers may have other work on their plate. You don’t want them writing your recommendation in a hurry or writing one similar to the others they are drafting.
If the person you ask hesitates or refuses to write you a letter of recommendation, don’t take it personally. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you or don’t want you to get a job. They may be busy or think they don’t know you well enough or even that you can get a stronger letter of recommendation elsewhere. Forcing someone to write your letter will only get you a half-hearted recommendation. Instead, ask someone on your backup list to ensure you get a solid recommendation.
Use your study period to gather letters of recommendation from your professors, so you have them ready to share with employers later. If you’ve been working part-time while studying, ask your managers for a recommendation letter when you leave the job or complete a project while your accomplishments are still fresh in their minds. Don’t wait until it’s time to start your job search and then scramble to find someone who can write you one quickly.
If possible, review the recommendation letters you’ve gathered before sharing them with your future employer. In rare cases, employers may want professional letters of recommendation to come to them directly from the person recommending you. However, if the recommender has sent the LOR to you so you can share it with one or more prospective employers, make sure you review it to confirm that it shows you in a positive light and highlights attributes relevant to the job. If not, you may still have enough time to ask someone else for a recommendation.
While there’s no fixed length for letters of recommendation, a typical letter will be between one or one and a half pages long. A recommendation letter from a professor or someone you worked with briefly, such as during a part-time job, will likely be closer to one page. As you gain more work experience and spend more time with the people recommending you, you can expect longer LORs. Make sure the recommendation letters you receive are on the writer’s letterhead or include their contact information, so the recruiter can follow up with the recommender to verify the letter’s contents.
If the letters you’ve received from your recommenders are shorter than a page, don’t worry. Remember, their value lies in the information they contain, not their length.
As a new graduate, getting your first job offer requires time and preparation. At Prepped, our goal is to help you approach the job search process with confidence and get hired. Sign up for Prepped and leverage our AI Interviewer and ATS Resume Scanner to improve your chances of landing your first job.