Answers from Career Advisors … Asking for a Recommendation/Reference When You Haven’t Kept in Touch

It happens — you intend to stay in contact with that professor or supervisor and life gets in the way. But now you need an internship, job, or grad school reference and you think this person will be a strong one. Consider the following in your outreach:

Be honest about your reasons for getting back in touch. If writing an email, you might say, “Dear Professor Johnson, I hope you’re doing well. I’d really like to hear what you’ve been up to since we last spoke. I’m also writing because I’m applying for [name of program or position/employer], and even though it’s been a while, I think you’re still the best person to speak to my [specific experience, abilities]. Do you mind if I give you a quick call sometime to discuss this?”

Be as helpful as possible. In a phone call or Zoom meeting, share your reasons for applying and explain why this reference will help you. Provide your resume and a copy of the internship/job description. If applying to a graduate program, give an overview of the program and all the necessary info (e.g., a copy of your personal statement, an envelope with stamp to return any forms).

Be prepared to hear ‘no.’ If the person doesn’t feel comfortable writing a recommendation or giving a reference, don’t force it. A lukewarm endorsement isn’t in your best interest anyway. Explore your backup options, review more tips on our website, and talk to a Career Advisor to strategize.

By Susannah Krenn
Susannah Krenn Assistant Director, Communications & Marketing / Career Advisor