Letters of recommendation can be nerve-racking and it is not always easy to decide who to ask. One thing that is important to remember if you have doubts about asking for letters is that your professors, TA’s, and previous employers are used to getting asked for these; do not feel like you are being too forward or out of place by asking someone to write a letter for you. With that said, it is very important to be respectful about how and when you ask. Make sure you are giving the person plenty of notice and time – at least a couple months before the due date. Also, some schools, job applications, etc. will allow the letter to be sent to them directly, which is perfect, but some require you to upload your own documents. In this case, have your reference create their letter as a pdf and ask them to send it to you, that way they feel comfortable knowing their words will be unchanged. Most importantly, always thank the person who wrote you a letter (gifts do not hurt) and keep them informed on the application process so they receive feedback on your success (which they helped with!).
So, who is a good person to ask for letters of recommendation? Some applications will require letters from specific types of people (i.e. previous employer and an academic relation), but some leave it up to you. Many students think it is only good to ask professors even if you do not know them well enough, however TAs can be a valuable source of recommendation letters and you may be able to form closer relationships in your smaller classes with your TA. If you do want a letter from a professor you can build a relationship with them in a few ways: course selection, office hours, independent study, academic internships/volunteer activities, teaching/research assistant positions, informational interviews and shadowing. In my personal experience, I have found that I was able to get closer to my TAs due to the smaller class size and have been able to get letters from them. In upper-division classes where the size is less I have found it easier to build a relationship with my professor and ask them for a letter; also harder classes where I struggled with the material and went to the professor or TA quite often for help established my relationship with them and gave the person insight into my personality/work ethic to write a positive letter. I also studied abroad and formed a relationship with that professor which allowed me enough of a relationship to request a letter.
For previous employers, look for one who knows your work ethic and abilities very well and can speak highly of you – for any letter this is important but employers especially for the job search as they know how you are in a professional work environment. Career services can help you find professionals to contact and also brainstorm who might be good for a letter. GauchoLink and internship databases can also help you connect with professionals as well as student organizations that have good networking opportunities.
Overall, you want to request letters in person so you can discuss your request and give them any background information that will help them write the letter (i.e. resume). You also want to give the person plenty of time to write the letter (at least two months prior to the due date) and be gracious in your request – a letter is not something they have to write. Make sure to ask the person if they can write a substantial, positive letter; you do not want to push them if it seems they are hesitant to write you a letter. Lastly, always thank them and let them know they helped (follow up)– it will encourage them to continue helping you in the future!