In the last few years, more and more Wall Street employers have begun to ask candidates for written recommendations — especially of those candidates who are about to graduate or have just graduated from school.
When asking an old professor or boss for a recommendation, you should pay attention to the following points:
- Ask early. The worst kind of request, from the perspective of the potential recommender, is one that must be finished in 24 hours. Chances are, the person you’re asking to write the recommendation is busy — and if he or she is an old professor, they often have many recommendations to write during recruiting season. And to be honest, many people who face a tight deadline to write a recommendation simply skipping writing it altogether. After all, asking someone to write a recommendation a day or two before it’s due is a sign of disrespect. Don’t do it.
- In your request, state clearly what the recipient of the recommendation is looking for. This gives the recommender some idea on what to write and what qualities of yours to emphasize.
- If you’re requesting a recommendation from an old professor who taught you more than six months ago, include essential information about yourself, such as which course(s) you took under him or her, when you did that, what grade(s) you got, and what interaction, if any, you had with him or her. Always include additional information about yourself, such as your high GPA or meaningful extracurricular activities, that help the recommender know you better. In general, I think it’s okay to attach a proper mug shot — I teach 400 – 500 students each year, and to be honest even some of the better students often fly under the radar so I don’t keep many face-name associations in my memory.
- IMPORTANT: Unless the situation is very special, never ask for a carte blanche recommendation. That’s a recommendation the recommender writes in the open and gives to you, signed but unsealed, so you can do whatever as you wish with the recommendation (hence the term carte blanche, meaning doing as you wish or think best). A recommendation request should always be made for a specific purpose, e.g., for a specific position or scholarship, and addressed to a specific recipient (or, at least, “to whom it may concern” at a specific organization).
- IMPORTANT: Unless the situation is very special, attach a note to your request and state that you waive your right to review the recommendation letter. You should already be familiar with this if you went to college or grad school in the U.S.: during the college or graduate school application process, the recommendation form you fill out has a check box for “I waive my right to review/examine this recommendation.” You probably already know that if you didn’t tick this check box, no one would really write a recommendation for you. More importantly, if you don’t allow the recommender to write a confidential recommendation, the recommendation will be construed by the recipient to be less than a fully honest assessment of you and will not be taken very seriously.
- If the recommender needs to mail in the recommendation (by snail mail), be sure to include an addressed and stamped envelope! I often get such a request yet the student would not include a prepared envelope for me to mail the recommendation in. Well, guess what? I never write such a recommendation. Why should I pay to send out the recommendation, given that I would have spent time and energy composing it?
- It’s okay to contact the recommender shortly before the deadline to remind him or her of the deadline. Start the reminder with a thank-you message: “I’d like to thank you once again for taking time out of your busy schedule to write the recommendation for the analyst position at Bail Me Out Bank on my behalf. In case you haven’t sent it out, please note that the due date is February 1, and the addressee is Mrs. Blanche Johnson, email@example.com. I truly appreciate your help and candor, and will update you on my job search status.”