Seeking Letters of Recommendation

Letters of Recommendation

If  the opportunity you have chosen to apply for asks for references or letters of recommendation, you must ask for these as soon as you know you are applying for something. Pay attention to the holidays, semester schedules, sabbaticals etc.. Many people travel and do not check their emails. It is best to find your recommenders now to give them time to write letters for you. Please note the difference between a asking someone to serve as a reference (name, and contact information only), and a letter of recommendation (the person writes a letter in support of your application). These are very different asks.

*Whether or not your application requires a reference or letter of recommendation, please email me your request for a reference (either letter or contact information). Whether or not you send these notes, I want to see what you write or have written so we can polish these requests and you can save them for future use.

When applying for graduate programs, post bacc programs, residencies, jobs and grants, you may be asked for letters of recommendation, or a list of references. In recent years, many institutions have moved away from asking for physical letters and into asking for a list of references, preferring a phone call over reading letters.  These are things to keep in mind:

Whether asking for a letter of recommendation or for a reference, it is important not to assume that your reference is willing to do either, they are not required to. If they decline to write a letter, this does not necessarily mean that they do not want recommend you. They have may have already committed to other letters or do not have time. It is important to specify what you are asking for. They may also think that they are not the best person to write this letter for you. Ultimately, your mentors have your best interests at heart. Do not take it personally if they decline, but rather listen carefully to their reasons. You want to be sure you ask the right people based upon what you are applying for. For example, you do not want to ask a former employer to be a reference for you if you are applying for graduate school. Rather, you want to ask your closest professors, the ones that know you, your work and your working habits best.

Some advice: I strongly suggest that you do not ask adjunct professors to write you letters- particularly when you have plenty of full time professors at your disposal. There are several reasons for this. First, an adjunct professor is a temporary position, and therefore have not gone through the same rigorous vetting process the rest of the faculty have. They do not have the credibility that full time professors have. Academia is small and many people outside the school know who is on staff and who is on the faculty. A letter from an adjunct does not carry the weight of a letter from a full time professor. Adjuncts are typically young in their careers and are therefore less known. Second, adjuncts are not paid very much. While you may have a close relationship with them, they are paid so little that to ask them to spend their valuable time outside class to write a letter for you is a little disrespectful of their time. full time faculty on the other hand, are compensated for time outside class and it is expected that they develop mentoring relationships outside the classroom. It’s a part of their job.

Letters of Recommendation: While it is OK to have a generalized letter written for you, it is far better to ask your reference to write specific letters for each application. There are several reasons for this. First, if your reference is aware of the specific opportunity for which you are applying, the letter will address the particular circumstances.

It is often the case in that institutions will ask recommenders send letters separately from your application.  If the application calls or letters to be included in your package of information, be sure that your reference letter is signed. For digital applications, have your reference sign and save the document as a PDF, which is less likely to be forged. If  asking for a physical letter, send your reference a pre addressed, stamped envelope, sealed and signed across the seal.

List of references: Once you have asked one time, do not assume that the same people will be willing to continue to be on your list of references. Best practice is to let your recommenders know when you apply for anything so that they are prepared to speak on your behalf. It is a good idea to have at least three people, though four is better with whom you have good relationships, willing to be listed on your list of references. Consider carefully who you will ask. Think about if they have the information needed to recommend you or not. Do not ask family members or friends unless that have specific experience that would benefit your application. It is important to be strategic about who you ask. If you are applying for a job, ask a former employer or mentor. If you are applying for graduate school, post bac, residencies or internships, ask those professors with whom you have worked closely; those that can vouch for how hard you work.

*Ask your reference the best number and address where they can be reached. Some people will supply you with a personal address email, home or cell phone number, while others prefer their business contact. Be careful to respect their wishes.

It is best to ask in person, though it is ok to send an email to your recommender asking if they would be willing to write you a letter. If they are, you must include this information:

  • a description of what you are applying for
  • when the deadline is
  • what the address is that the letter should be sent
  • the name and phone number of the person conducting the search
  • brief statement of your interest in this position

Give the recommender at least THREE WEEKS notice. After two weeks, it is okay to send a very brief reminder. Remember to send a thank you letter to your recommender after the deadline, and let the recommender know if you got the position. They are on your team,  have made an effort for you and acknowledging this makes them more likely to do this for you again in the future.

 

There are a large number of templates and suggestions out there. I googled “seeking letter of recommendation” and found a huge amount of really helpful information. Here are two:

wikihow

University of Maine

 

10 thoughts on “Seeking Letters of Recommendation

  1. I never actually understood what an adjunct professor was until I read this, which clarifies some of my own personal curiosities. How do you structure a reminder for a professor or recommender without sounding rude or impatient? I’ve always kind of had trouble and anxiety surrounding asking people for things, especially when it comes to reminders. Is there a certain mindset that is good to adopt for this?

  2. This article is a nice reminder that it is important to remember the formal aspects of writing a letter of recommendation. This is skill I need to work on, in the past I have not given the professor enough information enough information about why I needed the letter. Additionally, it is crucial to give your professor enough notice to write the letter, the have busy lives and often will not give you the letter until last minute( so it is good to ask for a date before the actual deadline).

  3. This article is really helpful in determining who you should ask faculty wise to write a letter for you. It might be beneficial to have a list of other individuals, not associated with the school, that you could ask but that all depends in the individuals available mentors. It is helpful to have a more clear timeline in mind as well when asking for these to give both parties sufficient time to prepare. Furthermore noting the basic distinction between reference and recommendation is beneficial to those who might not have known.

  4. Having a list of a few different people to ask is very smart and something I strive to do. I remember a teacher I had in high school who was one of the best, most inspiring, and professional teachers we had in our small school. He was great however I remember him always dreading application season to an extent because he would get slammed with requests from students to write letters of recommendations. So reflecting from that, I would say if you want to ask a professor who is very well-perceived and accomplished, give yourself as much time as possible so your request comes before the many others.

  5. About institutions:
    1. Many institutions prefer to make a phone call; a list of references is more popular in recent years.
    About the letter:
    2. It is often the case in that institutions will ask recommenders send letters separately from the application. 
    If the application calls or letters to be included in the package of information, be sure that the reference letter is signed.
    3.  For digital applications, have the reference sign and save the document as a PDF, which is less likely to be forged. 
    If asking for a physical letter, send the reference a pre addressed, stamped envelope, sealed and signed across the seal.
    About recommenders:
    1. do not ask adjunct professors to write you letters- particularly when you have plenty of full time professors at your disposal.
    2. it is better to ask your reference to write specific rather than general letters for each application. 
    3. let my recommenders know when I apply for anything so that they are prepared to speak on your behalf.
    4. have at least three people, four will be better.
    5. If applying for a job, ask a former employer or mentor. If applying for graduate school, post bac, residencies or internships, ask those professors with whom I have worked closely; those that can vouch for how hard I work.
    6. Ask my recommender the best number and address where they can be reached. Respect their wishes.
    7. It is best to ask in person, and include these information:
    ♣ a description of what you are applying for
    ♣ when the deadline is
    ♣ what the address is that the letter should be sent
    ♣ the name and phone number of the person conducting the search
    ♣ brief statement of your interest in this position
    8. Give the recommender at least 3 weeks’ notice. After 2 weeks, it is okay to send a very brief reminder.
    9. Send a thank you letter to recommender after the deadline, and let the recommender know if you got the position.

  6. This feels straight forward, but I don’t have many close relationships with professors and only one employer I could even ask for a reference from. I suppose my homework is to talk to my professors more and hopefully gain more work experience so I don’t have to rely on a single person.

  7. It has been a while since seeking out references and recommendations. As I establish myself in a University setting, I am realizing the importance of what background my references have. It is import to have people from an academic background to back you when applying to academic institutions, just as the respective would be true in a work setting outside of academia. Having a network is important, but how many references should one really have at the ready? And at any point, do references ‘expire’? Has it been too long since working with or learning under a certain individual to use them as a resource?

  8. I never knew about the difference between a letter of recommendation and a letter of reference. I have seen the words used interchangeably, and I am glad to know the difference; there is a chance that I would have requested a type of letter that the person or institution was not expecting, which could affect my eligibility.

  9. Letters of Recommendation can be tricky and stressful. I always make sure I maintain a professional relationship with my professors but also try to have a relaxed connection with them as well. It’s just important to show those people in your field that you are doing the best you can and that you hold yourself to a higher standard so that they don’t have to. When they write you a letter of recommendation, their word is on the line so they have to be selective about who they write letters for.

    I was a little confused about the physical letter being sent in. You give them the envelope that has been stamped and addressed and then they seal it and sign the seal?

  10. There were many misconceptions I had about seeking letters of recommendation as well as seeking references. Before doing the reading I wasn’t even certain of the differences between the two. The reading also cleared up who I should ask. There have been several adjunct professors I’ve had that I probably would have considered for references/letters of recommendation before.

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