Letters of Recommendation

Posted: February 27, 2013 in Social Media, Teaching, Writing
Tags:

Last week in the midst of writing letters of recommendation, I decided to devote my next blog entry to the subject. As I tried to explain to students why they should waive their rights to read their letters, I realized that in our age of social media, many students have never stopped to consider why they should waive their rights to read what their professors and employers have written about them.

Here’s why: You’re asking someone with whom you have an excellent working relationship to vouch for your abilities. If you aren’t sure the person thinks highly enough of you to write a strong recommendation, don’t ask that person for a letter. Ask someone else.

Not waiving your rights implies not only a lack of trust–I’m asking you to write a letter, but I don’t trust that it will be good–it also indicates a degree of self-doubt. (I doubt that I’m good enough.) When selection committees and potential employers read your application, you don’t want them to question your trust in others or your confidence in yourself.

When you ask someone to write a letter for you, give that person a copy of your resume. As a professor, I can address my students’ work in the classroom, but I can’t refer to their extracurricular activities and awards if I don’t know what they are.

Lastly, on a practical note, make sure that you give your letter-writers the full address of the company, school, or scholarship foundation to which you are applying. Even if the letter-writer will be submitting the letter to you in a sealed envelope to include in your application–and often that’s the case–the letter-writer still needs the full address of the recipient.

Why does the letter-writer need the recipient’s address if the letter-writer isn’t going to mail the letter?

The answer is simple: The recipient’s address appears in a business letter below the date and above the salutation (Dear Dr./Professor/Mr./Ms.). If a letter-writer doesn’t follow proper form, the recipient may question his or her credibility. And you don’t want  selection committees and potential employers to question the person you’ve called upon to vouch  for you.

For more valuable advice on letters of recommendation, see Mitch Harden’s “Waiving Your Rights“–which isn’t just about waiving your rights, it offers other useful tips as well.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. Elizabeth Addison says:

    Another intended consequence of electronic communication is that I have gotten emailed forms the student hasn’t signed. Hard copies don’t have this issue.

  2. janemlucas says:

    Thanks, Elizabeth. I’ve received unsigned electronic forms as well. Your comment reminds me that signing forms before scanning them is another important detail to mention students.

  3. Katie Hoffman says:

    This is right on the money! Thanks.

  4. I’ve written a ridiculous number of letters this past year. I have mixed emotions about the waiver thing. Students don’t always judge accurately what professors think of them, and they ought to have a way to find out what happened if they aren’t accepted/interviewed/hired, etc. Looking at letters is one of those opportunities to research the situation. Also, I think we are often too hesitant to gush TO our students about how wonderful they are. I still remember how good it felt to read some of the letters professors gave me copies of. I appreciate your perspective, though!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s