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The Dos and Don’ts of Recommendation Letters

April 11, 2019 2:05pm

Recommendation letters are something you will likely find yourself needing at some point in your career – whether they be for professional or academic purposes. While they can be stressful to solicit, they do provide you with that added edge of showing a potential employer or college who you are and why they should choose you. But who should you ask? How should you ask to write it? And what should your recommendation letter contain? Here is a short list of key do’s and don’ts when you it comes to obtaining yours.


Do choose someone who knows you well. It’s crucial to ask someone who has had the chance to get to know you professionally but also personally. These people may include former supervisors, teachers, and mentors. It’s important the person can speak to your character and personality as well as your work ethic and accomplishments. This gives them more material to work with when it comes to writing about your qualifications and will make for a more well-rounded recommendation letter.

Do tell the writer the purpose of the letter. This will give the writer an idea of what to include in what they write about you. If the letter is for a job, make sure to tell them what the position is. This provides them with a better idea of what personality traits, skills, and accomplishments to include about you that would best fit the position for which you are applying. If the recommendation is for admittance to a college or academic program, they can speak to other traits that would best fit that area of study.

Do proofread your letter. Everyone makes mistakes and spellcheck won’t catch all of them. Don’t just assume because someone you look up to who is an excellent writer sent you an error-free letter. You should always put your eyes on it a few times before sending it. You can also have someone else take a look at it. Mistakes can set your letter apart from others – and not in a good way.

Do send a thank you note. Thank you notes are a great way of expressing gratification. Not only is it important to send a handwritten thank you note to an interviewer, it’s also important to send one to those you have reached out to for letters of reference. They took time to carefully craft a recommendation for you and you should be sure to send them a personalized card showing your appreciation.


Don’t ask at the last minute. As soon as you find out you need a letter of recommendation, you should reach out to the person or people you are interested in having write yours. You don’t want to come across as being inconsiderate of their time. You also want to give them enough time to put thought into what they write about you. It’s best to get a letter of recommendation for a job before you’ve even applied for it so it’s ready to go should you get called right away for an interview.

Don’t limit yourself to just one. You should ask several qualified people to write your letters of reference. This gives you the ability to read through them and pick the best one for the job you are applying for. They might all be written well, but someone may have written about you in a way that makes you stand out a little more. No matter which letter you choose, you should still send thank you cards to everyone who contributed.

Don’t hesitate to provide a sample letter. People are busy. It’s possible if you were turned down by someone, it could be because of their schedule and lack of ability to find the time to craft a letter they feel is worthy. You can offer to write a sample letter and send it them. This will give them a good idea of what kind of content you are looking for and the ability to expand from there.

Don’t neglect to notify your references. Be sure to circle back with those who wrote your recommendation letters once you have news to share – whether it be good or bad. This also gives you the chance to thank them again and offer to return the favor in the future.

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