How to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation if You're Quiet

by Barbara Bean-Mellinger

Asking for letters of recommendation can be difficult for anyone, and even harder for someone who's quiet. Teachers know that writing such letters is part of the job, however, and usually they're pleased to be able to help. Knowing what's expected and how to facilitate the process can make asking for and receiving strong letters of recommendation easier for both of you.

Widen Your Options

It's important to ask for recommendations from people who know you, and if you're quiet, you may not have made an impression on many of your teachers. Think beyond teachers you had this year. Perhaps you spoke up more in a class you really enjoyed or a smaller environment, or completed an impressive project for a class. Think, too, of teachers and coaches who sponsored clubs or athletics in which you participated. It's more important to have a strong recommendation than one from a current teacher who doesn't know you well.

Prepare Your Case

Even people who know you well won't remember all the important details you'd like to have in your recommendation. Help them help you by putting together information they can use while writing your letter. Write a bio that includes the highlights of your interactions with them -- the dates, the class or activity, the grade you received and any achievements you made. If you completed a project you're especially proud of, set an athletic record, or improved significantly, these are accomplishments that can set you apart from other applicants. Update your resume with your most recent accomplishments. Write a cover letter to each person, mentioning the points that would be important to include. If they need to mail the letters, include stamped, pre-addressed envelopes.

Practice Asking

Make it easier to ask for recommendations by practicing what you'll say in advance. Tell them up front that you're looking for a letter of recommendation based on the interaction you had, and mention what you're applying for -- whether it's a school, a scholarship, an internship or other opportunity. Explain that you've prepared information that will help them write the letter. Then ask directly if they would be comfortable writing a strong letter for you. When you're practicing, look in the mirror and smile. Stand up straight and raise your head to build your confidence.

Allow Enough Time

Many people make the mistake of waiting too long to ask for a recommendation. A quiet, timid person in particular may put off what can be a difficult conversation. It takes time to write a good letter of recommendation, however, and each person may be writing several letters in addition to her normal responsibilities. Allow at least two weeks, and preferably a month or more, before you need the letter. Along with being practical, this also shows that you are considerate and professional. Follow up one week before you need the letters, asking if they need any additional information. This also serves as a polite reminder.

About the Author

Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in southwest Florida. She currently writes articles for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including people, animals, careers and education, as well as advertising and promotional materials for businesses. She holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Pittsburgh.