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Asking for a Recommendation Letter

Hey everyone, I’m new to this forum and had a chance to put some things from PU in action recently. Context: this person is an event organizer in the legal field who I did some volunteer work for, and his recommendation would be very helpful in getting a job in the future.



Email Title: Possible speaking opportunity?

Me: Hey Trent, hope things are going good and you’re getting some shut-eye after [big event I volunteered at]. I’ve been preparing to go back to [university] soon and thought of an opportunity that might interest you.

I started by bringing up the past event, indirectly reminding Trent of the previous help I gave him since I was going to be asking for a favor. However, thanks to PU I now know that past value isn’t as great as future or present value. So, in my second sentence I mention a future opportunity which will give him value too and make my request into a win-win.

Me: Every month or so [university] hosts lectures from guest speakers for the entire student body, ranging from professors to journalists and more. These speakers are usually chosen and invited selectively by [university]. [University] has a dedicated student-led volunteer advocacy group that meets regularly, and I’m sure they would be excited at the chance to hear from someone so committed as you.

I mention the opportunity: a potential speaking slot at a big university. I also mention volunteer student groups. Trent could use more volunteer help, so this adds another level of potential value. The main drawbacks of this opportunity are being distant and uncertain, so I compensate by making it relevant to him.

Me: If you’re interested I’d be happy to recommend you to [university staff] this fall. I think they’d really love hearing from you.

I now connect the opportunity back to me, to make it clear that I can provide value to him. I also throw in a mild compliment to butter him up for the next part.

Me: Speaking of recommending, I’d also really appreciate it if you could write up a short—and honest—letter of recommendation. I hope to work part-time at [job] over the coming year, and an endorsement from a straight arrow like you would help a lot.

Only now that the value is on the table, I make my request. I emphasize the words “short” and “honest”, making clear that what I’m asking for is a relatively small time investment, and that I know my work was good. I then mention why I’m asking, and compliment Trent again. After that I close with a few standard words.



I’ve gotten a positive reply back (even got a free shirt :D), so this message definitely worked (PU really is a life changer!). However, there are things I’m not certain were right in hindsight, and a second set of eyes would help a lot in perfecting the details for the next time.

(1) Was the transition from value-offering to value-requesting too jarring and on-the-nose? If so, how would you have transitioned?

(2) Is the title too much of a bait-and-switch? If so, what would you have written for the title instead?

Hello, Zenobyil. I think it was good. Congratulations on the positive reply and the free shirt!

I would change a few things:

  • If you are making a request, also allude to this in the title. So the reader will know beforehand that there's also something for you, he won't be surprised. It might be: "Big speaking opportunity of speaking about [project] at [University] (and one small request)"
  • Make less compliments, be specific, and add a reason. I think one or two compliments are great, but more than that may sound insincere. Also you give away less power. So you might have have said something like "when I came accross this call for lectures, I thought they would love hearing about that project W because of X, Y, Z that you shared in [name of the event]/" (Or even better, use a project he is currently working on). That way you deliver the compliment from a place of mild admiration. Calling him a straight arrow shows some judge power that I think is out of place.
  • Make it sound less conditional. To me it seemed a little "but only if you do this other thing for me". You could have transitioned saying "[name or the event he organised] got me really interested in doing X, so I'm applying for [job position] (and, if possible, tell him a little bit about how that job relates to the event at which you worked as a volunteer)"

These are my thoughts, man. But if you've got what you wanted, that's what matters. Congratulations

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