Personnel changes can occur quickly and abruptly. So it makes sense to obtain letters of recommendations before you need them. It is far more difficult to get a recommendation after you no longer have daily interaction with the contact, especially if either of you have left the company. It’s also challenging to remember specific accomplishments when you have been working for a company for a long time. Don’t limit your requests to immediate supervisors. Project leaders, mentors, and even peers can provide excellent input.
1. Speak your truth. Explain why you’d like the letter without boxing yourself in a corner. “I read an article about keeping your references updated, particularly after contributions to a team or project. Would you please write a recommendation?” Expect to be asked if you are job hunting. Be honest. “I’m not currently job hunting, however in today’s uncertain times I would appreciate a recommendation.”
2. Be specific. “As you know, I contributed to a 20% decrease in employee turnover, I was one of the first power users of the companywide ABC system, received awards for attendance and spirit, and saved the company $x last year by spearheading the expense audit project.” Just like a résumé, describe specific results instead of simply using generic adjectives like innovative, leader, hard-working. Sticking to the facts is particularly helpful if you don’t have the best relationship with your direct supervisor.
3. Make it easy. “I have bullet-pointed my contributions/outlined my accomplishments.” “I only need two paragraphs” “I’d be happy to draft it and you can revise. Would that be helpful?” If the company has a no-reference policy over legal concerns, be creative. Ask for a personal letter instead of company letterhead.
4. Set a date. “When can I expect it? Great, I will follow up with you (a day or two after they said they would complete it).
5. Express sincere thanks, and pass it on. Someone will ask you for a reference, if they haven’t already. Remember where you came from, who helped you along the way, and pay it forward.