As we’ve discussed before, people seem to have some anxiety around asking a potential mentor for a letter of recommendation. I used to teach a undergraduate seminar course in clinical research, and one of the assignments was for the students to write an email asking for a letter of recommendation. I was surprised at the range in quality of these emails, so I think the topic deserves some attention to make sure you all write excellent emails.
Here is the basic structure:
- Email title
- Introduction (if necessary)
- A description of the position to which you are applying.
- Your ask for help.
- A closer
This one is pretty simple. You can’t go wrong with “Letter of Recommendation”. It is straightforward and tells the reader exactly what the email is about. “Inquiry” is more vague but could be used if you don’t want to prime the reader about what your ask is.
“Dear Dr./Mr./Ms. X,” That’s it. Keep it simple.
If there is a chance the reader does not know you, this is recommended. If you are a senior student and you just got off a clinic rotation with the person, this is not necessary. I would suggest two lines. The first is giving your current professional role and the context how you know each other. “My name is John Smith and I am a senior majoring in Biology; I was a student in your research seminar course.”
The second line provides something memorable about you or your interaction. “I did the research project comparing pricing of men and women’s beauty products.”
A description of the position
Provide enough information that they can write a specific letter. If this is “vet school”, that’s fine. If it’s an aquarium externship in Florida, give them more details. If there is a link to the position description, provide that. “I am applying for small animal rotating internships in academic and private practice institutions.”
Your ask for help
Just keep it simple and gracious. Always attach your letter of intent and curriculum vitae. “I was wondering if you would be able and willing to write a good letter of recommendation for me? My letter of intent and CV are attached for your reference. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you.”
These commonly include “Sincerely,” “Best Regards”, and “With Appreciation.” I personally like “Respectfully,” but you can choose what you like. “Cheers,” “Take Care,” and similar too-personal closers should not be used.
So that’s it! If you want to put some examples together and share them in the comments, I will comment on them!