How to Secure a Great Recommendation Letter
By: Rishal Stanciel
Rishal Stanciel is the Director of Recruitment and a Senior Career Coach for MLT’s Career Prep Program. She has a proven track record of recruiting and coaching 1,000+ undergraduate students across more than 200 campuses.
Securing a great recommendation letter is about more than securing your spot in programs like MLT Career Prep. It’s a key skill that can accelerate your growth across all stages of your career. If the process seems intimidating or you just don’t know where to start, these tips will help you secure great recommendation letters and build your personal brand.
1. Identify the Right Person to Tell Your Story
Before asking for a recommendation letter, spend some time thinking about: who has actually seen me demonstrate key competencies, activate my leadership skills, utilize my teamwork abilities, and even my analytical skills and performance in courses or the workplace.
It could be a professor that you took a course with; or the advisors, specifically for organizations on campus – whether it’s a fraternity, sorority, club, or business fraternity.
It could be any number of those organizations, as well as a work-study or part-time job. You can certainly invite more than one recommender, especially if you want to enhance your overall profile. You would complete the same process as mentioned above.
Don’t exclude individuals from jobs that you might’ve worked between your freshman and sophomore years. For example, a supervisor at a fast-food restaurant or retail store. I know people think, “I didn’t learn anything there.” That’s just not true!
I worked in a movie theater for more than three years between high school and college and learned a ton about customer service, consumer preferences, marketing, and selling products. I developed great relationships with my supervisors and cultivated my language skills by learning Spanish in Miami.
2. Consider How You Want to Approach That Individual
It’s important to use clear communication when asking for a recommendation. An example might be:
- “Professor Johnson, I took your ‘Intro to Finance’ course last semester. I got an A in your class and you acknowledged my group for completing one of the best financial modeling projects in that entire semester. I’m applying for this incredibly competitive program called Management Leadership for Tomorrow. I’m required to submit a recommendation from a leader that I’ve worked with directly. I would love for you to be the person that submits my recommendation. Are you willing to complete the short recommendation form for me?”
If they respond, “Of course, I’ll write this for you.” Then, there you go. It’s done.
However, if there is any level of hesitation from Professor Johnson, then you might say:
- “Well, thank you so much, sir. I appreciate it as I know you are super busy. I will reach back for my next recommendation, Thanks for your response.
3. Give the Recommender Your Best Wins
When you’re thinking about what to share with the recommender, make sure that you’re giving them your highlights.
- “I was the president of NSBE and Girls Who Code last semester, while you were the advisor.”
- “I activated four different community service opportunities under your leadership, including a Math tutorial program for high schoolers preparing for SAT/ACT testing.”
- “I had an opportunity to be a part of your Introduction to Marketing class and was able to secure an A.”
- “I was recognized as a top performer for our presentation on [X] improving efficiency in Supply Chain.”
Share the best pieces of your brand and your most incredible accomplishments as it relates to that particular role.
4. Get Ahead of the Game and Start Early
When you decide to apply to an MLT program, start filling out the first two buckets of the application. Immediately, complete the first two sections. Then skip down to the recommendation section because it typically will take a little longer for the responder to fill out that information and send it back.
The recommendation form is a one-page form with specific questions. It should take them no more than 30 minutes to complete. You want to mention the 30-minute time commitment upfront.
Also, it is important to note that you can submit your initial application without having the recommendation form back. When you complete the application, mark all items as complete. It will allow you to submit your application.
You will have until the 2nd round of your application to submit the recommendation form. Then, follow up via email with your recommender directly to remind them to complete the short form using the language suggestions below.
- “Thank you so much for agreeing to complete this recommendation for Management Leadership for Tomorrow [Add program name], a super competitive program for professional development and career advancement to improve my career trajectory [Name of Organization/Program + Description]. Just as a reminder, here are a few things about myself that might be helpful in order for you to complete a great recommendation. Share your best wins as we mentioned earlier. I appreciate your support and will keep you posted on my candidacy.”
5. Follow Up
Follow up with the initial outreach to confirm, after you have asked for the recommendation. After your initial outreach, it’s important to confirm that the recommender is going to complete it with the necessary information.
After you have received the recommendation, thank the recommender and update them on the results of your candidacy.
Even if you didn’t get into the program, you should still thank them because the next time you need a recommendation letter, they’re going to be more inclined to say yes.
6. Maintain the Relationship
Keep in touch with your recommender. You always want to have a pipeline of individuals, particularly in undergrad, who you can continue to ask for recommendations over time. You are building a group of allies that are going to be with you to provide recommendations, not just for this particular opportunity, but for jobs, business school, and beyond.
For many opportunities, you’re going to need a referral. Be sure to tie the bow tight afterward. Leverage your advocates.
Asking for a recommendation letter can be intimidating, but these steps will help you build lasting relationships that will benefit you throughout your career. Now, Let’s go!
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