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How to Write a Recommendation Request Letter

You’ve probably heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know that matters,” and there’s definitely some truth to the statement. From getting accepted into higher education programs to landing competitive jobs, recommendations play a huge role in advancing your career. 

If you’re a diligent, responsible employee, you’ve earned trust and respect from those you work with. Now it’s time to ask them for a recommendation. But how do you go about it? We’ll explain how to ask for a recommendation from a colleague or supervisor and share a sample recommendation request letter to use when making your ask.

What is a recommendation request?

When you apply for a job, an education program, or an internship, you’ll likely be asked to provide references. These references should be from people in your life who can speak to your positive attributes, like your technical skills, personal strengths, and work ethic. 

It’s poor etiquette to list someone as a reference before asking their permission first, so before you do, you’ll need to request a recommendation. Using a recommendation letter is one way to do that. 

Why is it important to ask in writing?

It’s important to formally ask for a reference because you want to be sure the person can actually give you a wholehearted recommendation. If a reference is weak, it’ll look worse for you than if that person didn’t speak at all. So, confirm they’re onboard with a recommendation request first.

Second, it’s a courteous way to ask. The professional world is full of practices and customs that might seem overly formal to you, but they can reflect on your reputation. Abiding by these norms can help preserve your positive image in the eyes of the people from whom you’re seeking a recommendation. 

When should you request a recommendation?

Send a recommendation request letter–which can be done via email–before using someone as a reference. You can also use this type of letter to ask for someone to recommend you for a job, promotion, career advancement program or membership into a professional organization.

What to include in your request

  • Details on the position you’re applying for. Give the recipient some background on the role and the organization. 
  • Suggested highlights. What strengths or skills do you feel it would be best for them to touch on? It’s a good idea to tie these to the specific requirements listed in the job posting. 
  • Your resume. Make sure your reference is up to date with your latest position and accomplishments. 
  • Instructions for submitting the recommendation. Be clear about the deadline and any other must-haves for your recommendation. If it needs to be mailed, include a pre-addressed, stamped envelope for them to use. 

Tips for asking for a recommendation

Ask in person or over the phone first

Don’t hit your reference with a recommendation request letter completely out of the blue. Instead, it’s a good idea to ask while talking live, either in person or on the phone. This also gives you a chance to briefly catch up if it’s been a while since you last spoke. 

Give them plenty of time

Most professionals, especially those in management positions, are busy. So, ask them several weeks ahead of when you need the letter. The more time you can give them, the better. 

Be proactive

Don’t wait until you find a position you want to apply to before asking for a recommendation. You can make a request for a general letter that speaks to your skills when you leave a job, wrap up an internship or graduate. 

Sample letter


Thanks for taking my call this morning. It was great to hear about your upcoming trip to the Poconos; the weather should be perfect this time of year. 

As I mentioned when we spoke, I’m applying for the position of chief horticulturist with Organically Speaking, which is a locally run organic landscaping company. I was hoping you could provide a reference about the work I’ve done for you and Mary at your home.

Here are some things I was hoping you could touch on:

  • How many years I’ve been working for you
  • My knowledge of sustainable gardening practices
  • The variety of species I’ve cultivated in your yard
  • Anything else you think would be helpful for the hiring manager to hear

My latest resume is attached for your reference. Your recommendation should be submitted to [email protected] by June 15 at the latest. 

I have greatly enjoyed working for you and Mary these past few years and would be thrilled to have you recommend me. 

All best,