How to Ask a Professor for a Recommendation

Tips for Requesting Recommendations With an Example

Professor and student reviewing essay in lecture hall
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College professors, particularly those who have taught you in multiple classes, can provide powerful recommendations for employers. After all, they have observed you analyze, write, articulate your views and present to groups.

Professors can also attest to the overall caliber and quality of your work. Many professors have an abundance of contacts in the professional world, including ex-students and consulting clients, and they usually have a high degree of credibility with these contacts.

How to Ask for a Recommendation from a Professor

Even if you already have a positive relationship with your professor, it's important to be tactful when asking for a recommendation. You need to keep in mind that professors teach a great number of students.

Although they may have a very positive general impression of you, the most convincing references will require them to give a fair amount of detail to support their positive assertions.  You can help them to accomplish this by supplying some of this detail when you make your request.  

Prepare a Summary Document

Prepare a summary document that lists each course you took with the professor and references any papers or projects that you successfully completed.  Include the grade for individual projects as well as the overall grade for the course. If you have saved a couple of papers that were well received - those with glowing comments in red - supply copies of those documents.

Provide Your Resume

Share your resume to give the professor a summary of your extracurricular achievements and your work experience. Describe in writing the types of jobs you're after, and the qualifications that you are focusing on.

Include a Cover Letter

Including a copy of a cover letter can help with this process.

If possible, point to specific classes or projects where you may have showcased some of the core skills you would like the recommendation to emphasize.

Request a Meeting

If you're still in school or living near campus, try to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the professor. Ask if the faculty member would be comfortable endorsing you as a candidate for the types of jobs you're applying to, and then ask if you can stop in during office hours or chat over a cup of coffee to discuss the matter further. Then, follow up with an email or letter to your prospective faculty reference with the attached documents.

Make sure you state precisely what you are asking them to do such as to write a general letter of recommendation for your credential file, to write a recommendation for a specific job, or for permission to list them as a reference. 

Give your faculty members as much advance notice as possible. Towards the end of the semester, they may be burdened by grading papers and exams as well as writing recommendations for many other students.

Update Your Job Search Progress

Keep your faculty members up to date with your job search as it progresses.  Make sure to let them know if you an employer seems to be ready to conduct a reference check.

You should also provide the professor with a job description and copy of your cover letter so they will be prepared should they receive a call.