SO YOU'D LIKE A RECOMMENDATION?
A recommendation is needed when a university, employer, or other entity requests one. Some organizations will require a letter, some require the recommender fill out a form, and some require both. Some will not require a letter but rather will contact a recommendation to talk about a candidate.
Most recommenders are asked to provide many recommendations during the year. Your thoughtfulness and careful preparation will help your recommender be able to write the best letter possible to help you. Remember, that the person requesting the recommendation must take responsibility and initiative in the recommendation process. This document will talk about recommendation letters and of course many of the points below pertain to verbal recommendations as well. Although recommenders will vary in their preferences, here are some general guidelines to follow:
A. Asking the recommender
1) Ask the recommender in person when possible.
- "ask"- no recommender owes you a recommendation. You are requesting help from that person; make your statement in the form of a request. Be willing to take "no" for an answer.
- "in person"- do not put the request under an office door, leave in a mailbox, or grab the recommender in the hallway. Ask the recommender when they will have time to discuss this with you, preferably during their posted office hour. Obviously sometimes we need to do this by phone or email and recommenders understand that. In person is best when you can do it.
2) Ask if the recommender would be able to provide a favorable recommendation.
- If the recommender cannot honestly provide a favorable recommendation, you will want to find another person who will.
3) Ask if the recommender would be able to provide a specific recommendation.
- If the recommender does not know you well enough to be specific in their comments, the recommendation will not do you much good anyway. Ask someone else.
B. Your responsibility: What you should do
1) Allow ample time for the recommender to write the letter.
- At least two weeks or more should be allowed.
2) Provide the recommender with all the relevant forms and instructions at one time.
- Find out how your recommender wants to receive the materials. They ask you to send all materials electronically. If they want to materials in hard copy, put them in a large labeled envelope (your name and phone number) so the materials will not get lost. Whatever you do, send this all at one time in as few documents/attachments as possible.
- If the organization provides a form for the letter, get the form to the recommender.
- If the organization provides general instructions for preparing letters, send the instructions to the recommender. Highlight the instructions. Send along the information about the letter that is needed-- the specific job announcement, call for papers, award call, etc.
- Make sure the recommender has the correct and full name, title, address for the person/organization to whom the letter is addressed (make sure all this is spelled correctly), and the deadline for submitting the letter. Some will want this information electronically. Check with your recommender.
3) Type in all information you are responsible for providing.
- Type your name and other information on all forms, where needed (handwriting is unprofessional).
4) Provide the recommender with your vita/resume and statement of your goals.
- In addition to sending your resume, remind the recommender of your major(s) and minor(s), which classes you took from the recommender, term when you took the classes and grade received in those classes.
- Provide the recommender with any information about your participation in the class, projects completed, etc. Help the recommender recall your class performance in as much detail as possible if they do not know you well or if time has elapsed since they worked with you.
- Remind the recommender about relevant experiences, internships, research projects, grants etc. they can highlight. Stress especially leadership positions held and awards won.
- Provide the recommender with information on some of your relevant activities, Provide the recommender with a statement of your goals and/or reasons for choosing the university/job/conference/award/fellowship for which you are applying.
5) Provide explicit instructions on sending the recommendation.
- Give the recommender specific instructions whether the recommendation is to be mailed, emailed, given to you to mail, etc.
- If the recommendation is to be mailed, offer to provide the recommender with an addressed envelope for each recommendation. Type the correct address on each envelope (ask for university envelopes if they are needed; some recommenders will not need envelopes--ask).
6) Make sure the recommender has sent the letter of recommendation.
- Politely check with the recommender a few days before the deadline to make sure the letter has been completed and sent. Don't be shy about this--we do forget! It is your job to make sure the recommendation has been sent.
7) Follow up the recommendation with a thank-you letter to the recommender.
- Recommendation take time, thought, and effort. Let the recommender know you appreciate the effort made on your behalf.
C. Do students receive copies of the letters of recommendation?
1) Each recommender will have a policy on giving students copies of the recommendations.
- Ask the recommender what their practice is, if you desire a copy.
2) Some recommenders will be willing to discuss their recommendations with you after they are written.
- If you wish, you may ask the recommender if s/he would be willing to discuss the recommendations with you.
© Dawn O. Braithwaite, Ph.D., updated: 2006, Communication Studies, Department University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Earlier version published in: Association for School, College and University Staffing Annual, Addison, IL, 1989.