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Letter of Recommendation - How to ask for it

Confused on whom to approach for the perfect LoR? Learn how to approach a professor or your employer to ask for a LoR?

Mahesh Ramani

Once you have shortlisted about five potential referees; it is advised that you go and meet each referee personally. Sending a request through email or leaving a voicemail may not be a very good idea.

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We continue our series of articles on the Letter of Recommendation. In the previous article we gave some tips on finding the correct referee; this article gives students tips on how to approach a potential referee and ask for a Letter of Recommendation.

Once you have shortlisted about five potential referees; it is advised that you go and meet each referee personally. Sending a request through email or leaving a voicemail may not be a good idea. The best process would be to call the person to get an appointment and then speak to the person directly, outlining a request for a Letter of Recommendation. It is important that you explain to the referee about the course you intend to study and why the letter is important.

Time is of the Essence

Ensure that you contact your referee well in advance and give him/her ample time to write your Letter of Recommendation. If you delay in requesting your letter, the professor may be swamped for time during the end of the semester when exams, corrections and requests for letters by other students might also be there. Hence if you let your professor know at least three months in advance it would be perfect.

Getting a Letter from your Employer

A Letter of Recommendation from an employer is a tricky proposition; as you are letting your organisation know that in all due probability you would be quitting the company and going abroad for higher studies. Most companies require employees to serve a notice-period ranging from a month to three months; therefore plan your requests and admissions process accordingly.

Ask for a recommendation from your immediate supervisor/team-lead, someone who has monitored your work and can highlight your role in the successful completion of a project.

Reading the Letter

Institutional policies vary but most institutions have a rider that refrain students from reading the letter. Go through the admission guidelines clearly for any queries or doubts.

Sending the Letter

Most institutions require the letter to be sealed and sent to their admissions office. Ensure that you provide a spacious and strong envelope to hold the letter. Request for a copy of the letter in case your original letter is misplaced or lost in transit. Since most people type the letter on their computer and print it out and affix their signature, perhaps you may wish to take a copy of the letter on a USB-drive.  

If the letters are being sent through a courier service like FedEx then you don’t have to affix postage stamps. If the institution mandates that the letter has to be sent through airmail then affix postage stamps of the appropriate value.

Say the Golden Words

It is very important that you thank your referees who have been kind enough to write a Letter of Recommendation for you. Thank them personally and also send them a ‘thank you note’ — this shows that you care for your referees and their letter matters a lot. If you secure admission in the institution of your choice, it would be good if you inform your referee that you have secured admission. When you do this, your referee is also pleased and they feel happy for you as well.

To conclude, a quick summary: give ample time to your referees to get your letter ready, take a back-up copy of the letter; secure the stipulated number of letters as prescribed by the institution and always remember to thank your referees.

The next article in this series will focus on the content to be presented in a letter of recommendation.

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Nupur Verma Nupur Verma,
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