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.