Whether you’re applying to medical school or residency, asking for letters of recommendation can be daunting. I understand the feeling of not wanting to bother someone or wondering if the letter will be strong enough to help you stand out among the other applicants. After all, I’ve been told strong letters can make a difference, which means it is absolutely essential to display a sense of professionalism when asking for a letter of recommendation. I thought it would be a great idea to share tips on how to request a letter of recommendation with application season upon us.
- Choose the right person. The last thing you want is to ask someone who has a prestigious title but knows nothing about you. Your letter will end up being a form letter instead of a compelling one. Picking someone who truly knows you personally and has taken time to invest in you will be the right person. Think about who will write the best letter for your situation.
- Plan ahead. Asking for letters well ahead of the deadline is key (if you can help it). My rule of thumb is at least one month in advance. Never assume someone has the time to write you a strong letter without giving you advance notice. Asking in advance also gives the recommender time to contemplate what he or she wants to say.
- Ask nicely and respectfully. Please try to ask your recommender in person if possible. If not, put time into your request email; you want them to put thought into your letter, so put thought into asking them. Explain why you feel they are special to you and would be the perfect person to write you a letter of recommendation. I truly believe everyone feels it’s nice to be appreciated and reminded he or she is making a difference.
- Respect credentials. Your attendings and professors have worked very hard to earn their education and be in the place to teach you. Please respect that.
- Avoid poor grammar and spelling mistakes. You wouldn’t that for your letter either.
- Include ALL relevant details and materials. Explain what you are applying for along with additional information if possible with links (a summary of all links is always nice). Be available to answer any questions whatsoever about the program and yourself whether in person, over the phone, or via email. Go ahead and attach your statement of interest and CV. Provide the deadline—this is key! Attach any forms that may need to be filled out, and be sure to do your part and fill out what you can in advance. Try to make it as easy as possible and follow up! Be involved in the process.