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Asking for a Recommendation Letter

A well-written recommendation can contribute significantly to your job application because it provides information that cannot be found on your CV or cover letter.

When choosing someone to write your recommendation letter, you will want to look for specific qualities:

  • First and foremost, you will want to find someone who is a good writer. A good writer will be able to create a well-organized and well-written recommendation letter.
  • Find someone who knows you well. The person writing your recommendation letter must be able to describe you, your character, your work, or your academic potential in detail.
  • This person is, obviously, someone who has a high opinion of you. Your recommendation letter must show you in a positive light.

Looking for a Good Recommender

A good recommender must be able to write a detailed, personal letter of support, not a generic letter that they write for any candidate or student.  This means that if the best person to recommend you is an academic assistant who taught you in the class rather than some distinguished professor who you barely know, then you ask the academic assistant.  For graduates who don’t have working experience, it is very common to have recommendation letters from academics.
However, if you have worked in the past and there is an employer that knows you well and may highlight some of your personality aspects, then ask for a recommendation letter.
Try to include in your job application at least one letter from an employer and one from an academic. Try to build a collection of letters than can speak of your many strengths. If one recommender knows your research ability really well, one knows your teaching ability well, one knows your work leadership experience, and one has taught you in a class, then you have a great collection of letters that can display the whole picture of who you are.

Be Organized

Once you’ve got the recommenders to write letters, you need to get them the info they need. At minimum, this means sending them some information about the job you’re applying for and instructions for where/how to mail the letter, including a deadline. Ideally though, you should provide as much material as possible about the job AND about yourself so that the letter writer can tailor their letter. Remember, the goal is for your recommenders to write detailed, personal letters, so let them know more about you and your reason for applying. Give them a copy of your application or goal statement or writing samples if you’re comfortable sharing that with them.

It would be useful (but not necessary) to facilitate the recommenders by providing them with the following information:

  • the name of the company  and  the department you are applying for.
  • the name of the actual position  you  are applying for (e.g., Assistant Professor public relations)
  • the contact person to address the letter to (e.g., “Dr. So-and-So, Search Committee Chair” or if there isn’t a specific person listed, just “search committee members”)
  • the job description (e.g., a link to it if it was online)
  • a few notes about the position (e.g., insider info you may have, whether you met the employer at a job fair a few months ago, who you may know at the company, and so on)
  • a few notes about what you would really appreciate the letter writer to say (e.g., I put things like “for this letter, I know they’re looking for someone with new media expertise in addition to public relation competence, so I would really like for you to really emphasize how my research addresses new media and society”)
  • who else you had asked to write a letter for you(this helps the letter writer see who else is writing for you. If they know, for instance, that you’ve asked someone else who knows your teaching skills better than they do, then they feel less pressure to cover that issue in their letter)
  • instructions for submitting the letter (e.g., an email address to send it to; an online system to upload it to; whether the envelope needs to be sealed, signed, and given to you to include in one large application packet; a mailing address if it needs to be mailed; and so on. Providing them a pre-printed envelope with postage on it is a nice touch, especially if you’re asking for tons of mailed letters from people, but generally your recommenders can spring for the stamp)
  • the deadline for sending the letter (and if it’s a “received by” deadline vs. a “postmark deadline,” you should explain this, too).