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How to Obtain a Good Letter of Recommendation

When applying for an award or a grant, you may be asked to include a letter of recommendation. An effective recommendation makes it possible for the person reviewing your application to get to know you beyond your resume, giving a more complete picture of who you are and it may showcase some of your core skills you would like to emphasize.

It’s perfectly normal to feel nervous about asking for a letter of recommendation. By following some useful tips explained here, you can maximize your chances of getting stellar recommendations.

1. Who to ask?

People who are familiar with your work and performance are excellent choices to ask for recommendations. The most valuable recommendation should come from someone who knows you well. Your current or previous employers, mentors, professors or supervisors are likely to have plenty of contacts in the professional world, and they usually have a high degree of credibility. The impact you have made will help them bring out the best traits of your character. Make a list of several people who you could ask. It is important to choose someone who will consider the request seriously and dedicate some time aside to write a proper letter. An inadequately written letter can be detrimental to your application.

2. Ask in person first

Before you send a formal request for a letter of recommendation, ensure the appropriate person is available to discuss the possibility of providing the letter. It is always preferable to ask for a recommendation letter in person. Be prepared to explain confidently and calmly what it is you are applying for and why you are asking this person to recommend you. Since you are asking a person to take hours out of their life for you, do not waste their time by being unprepared or disorganized.

If you sense any hint of hesitation, the best option would be to ask someone else. There are various reasons why someone may not wish to write a letter of recommendation for you. They might feel like they are insufficiently qualified or feel like they do not know you well enough, just to name a few. After all, you need your recommender to vouch for you without hesitation.

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3. Send a formal request

After you have confirmed your request in person, send a formal written request to those who have agreed to provide you a recommendation. Make sure to begin with some friendly words. Most people are busy with their own schedules, so try to make it easy for the person doing the writing to highlight your accomplishments and personal strengths. When you send your request, also include:

  • Information on the award or grant you are applying for
  • An updated resume
  • Details about how and when the letter should be submitted
  • A pre-addressed, stamped envelope (for letters that need to be sent by mail)

4. Give ample time

Asking well in advance will allow your recommenders to spend some time and attention on your letter. This can make them more likely to accept your request. It would be advisable to give them at least 2 weeks, so they have enough time to focus on the right traits and highlight your accomplishments.

5. Say a final thank you

Express your appreciation by sending a short thank you note to your recommender. An even nicer touch would be to update your recommenders with the good news once you have been granted the award.

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