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How to Ask for Recommendations

Asking for recommendations can be intimidating. We’ve all been there! In my experience though, most people will be happy to support you. I actually love it when someone asks me to recommend them because it means they value our relationship. Supporting the people I love and respect by writing recommendations is something I’m always excited to do. That said,  if you want thoughtful recommendations, you need to put in effort before, during, and after your request. 

The Prep:

  • Think about what kind of recommendation or reference you want. If you want general references for your resume, 3 people is a solid number.
  • Make a list of people who know your skills, accomplishments, and qualities (exclude family as well as friends unrelated to your professional life). 
  • Choose people that you would be comfortable asking for recommendations.
  • Identify relationships that aren’t ready for a recommendation and build your connections with those folks! Strong relationships require time, effort, and intentionality.
  • Prepare a list of your accomplishments and skills that you want to convey. This is useful if your reference asks for this guidance.
  • Update your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. These can all be helpful to others for writing your recommendation. 

The Ask:

  • Remember that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take (*nods approvingly at poster of Michael Scott*). Seriously though, you just have to take the leap.
  • Don’t take it personally if they decline. Awesome references will know if they aren’t the best person to speak to your knowledge, skills, and abilities for the role. Also, they might be in a busy or stressful time.
  • Ask via email. This might seem impersonal, but it can actually be deeply considerate because it takes the pressure off for both parties. It also allows you to choose your words carefully and include any relevant documents.
  • Remind them of your connection. This won’t apply to every situation, but if it is a somewhat distant relationship (like a college professor with 100s of students), it can be helpful to give them context.
  • Be gracious in your request and give them room to respectfully decline.
  • Give them plenty of time to consider the request and write a response. 
  • Explain the requirements to them clearly, especially any crucial dates. 
  • Provide context (briefly). For example, if it’s an internship, tell them what you’ll be doing, why it interests you, and how it aligns with your goals. This will get them excited about your opportunity and write you a better recommendation.

The Follow-up:

  • Thank them as soon as you can, but also write them a thoughtful card. It strengthens your relationship, and they will definitely appreciate it.
  • Follow up with them significantly before the due date. Life happens, and they may need a reminder.
  • Tell them if you earn an opportunity based on their recommendation or reference. This can be a moment for you both to celebrate!

Asking recommendations doesn’t have to be stressful! If you prepare with these guidelines it can actually be exciting. Think of it less as a burden and more as a celebration of the relationship you’ve been building. And remember, when you have the opportunity to write a recommendation for someone else, pay it forward!

 

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Ethan Jacot

Ethan Jacot

As Cinder’s Communications Specialist, Ethan hones his craft as a bard / wordsmith / troubadour to tell the tale of Cinder. Words have power, and Ethan is passionate about forging language that connects people with Cinder’s work building equitable and inclusive environments. Outside of Cinder, you can find him waxing poetic about ramen, running tabletop RPGs, and volunteering for the Portland-Bologna Sister City Association.

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