7 tips to keep in mind as you ask faculty members to write letters of recommendation for you

recommendation letters - photo by Julie DoddI’m taking a break from writing letters of recommendations to write this post for those of you who are asking faculty members to write letters of recommendation for you. I’m writing letters for undergraduates seeking summer internships, graduating seniors seeking jobs, and doctoral students applying for faculty positions. Most students have done a really good job of “recruiting” me to write a letter. But others…

I wrote a previous post on “7 tips for recruiting references for internships, jobs and graduate school.” So I’d encourage you to read that post, too.

Here are seven more tips for when you ask faculty members to write letters of recommendation for you:

#1 – Request the letter of recommendation well in advance of the deadline.

Remember that faculty members have lots going on, just like you do. Try to make your request at least two weeks prior to the deadline.

You may run across an internship deadline only a few days prior to the deadline. You will have to decide if that’s adequate time for the faculty member to write the recommendation for you — and then be prepared if you haven’t provided adequate notification.

I’ve had students say (or more likely email me): “I know the deadline is tomorrow, but you already have written a letter for me and can just change a few things.”

#2 – Provide the information that will make it easier for the faculty member to write the recommendation.

When you are communicating with the faculty member about the letter of recommendation, provide your update résumé and the link to the internship/job information. I appreciate it when the student has the contact person’s or committee’s name and address typed in an email to me so I can copy/paste that info into the letter I’m writing.

Remember that the faculty member probably won’t know all the factors that you are including in your own letter of application. Some of that information could help us in writing our letters of recommendation. Why are you interested in this particular internship? What do you consider your strengths as a potential employee? So include that info or include the letter of application or a paragraph or two of explanation.

Be sure to clarify how the letter is to be submitted.

  • As part of the packet that you are submitted. In that case, typically the faculty member gives you the recommendation in a sealed envelope.
  • Emailed to a contact person or organizational email address. Be sure to provide the email address.
  • Snail mailed separately from your application package. Offer to provide a stamped and addressed envelope.
  • Uploaded to an organization’s job processing website. The faculty member needs to be alert to the email that will include the URL for submitting the recommendation.

Include all that information in one email, not three or four different ones. Use a subject line like: Recommendation info for Your Name for name of internship (thanks!)

#3 – Consider how many letters of recommendation you are asking the faculty member to write for you.

Computers can help us in writing letters. We can write the first letter of recommendation for the person and then modify it for the next recommendation for that individual. But even modifying a letter takes time. I talked with a doctoral student who has 100 jobs in his current search. He wasn’t planning to apply to all of those, but I did get the sense that he would be applying for several dozen. I was thinking of his doctoral advisor and how many letters the student eventually would need.  Thankfully, many positions don’t require letters of recommendation until you are a finalist for the job. But consider how many letters you are asking someone to write on your behalf.

#4 – Be sure that you have carefully edited your own materials.

You don’t want to ask a faculty member to give you a strong recommendation if your own materials don’t reflect well on you. Editing your materials also means be mindful of how you label your files. If your file is called resume.pdf, so could lots of other resume.pdf files. A better naming approach = last_name_resume.pdf. No spaces and all lower case.

#5 – Be alert to cues if the faculty member doesn’t immediately agree to write the recommendation.

Sometimes faculty members are hesitant to say “yes” to writing a recommendation for you because they are busy. But sometimes they are hesitant to say “yes” because they won’t be able to write a strong recommendation for you. They are thinking about the late work your turned in for class. They are thinking that you haven’t contacted them in the two years since you took a class with them but are now because you need a letter of recommendation.

Don’t try to make the faculty member guilty: “I won’t get this internship unless you write a letter for me.”  If they say “no,” don’t be mad.

Thank them for considering your request. If you think the issue is the timing, then you can say, “I hope that you might be able to recommend me for a future internship or job — if I can provide you more time.”

#6 – Send polite email reminders of the upcoming application deadline.

With everything else that a faculty member has going on, it’s easy to let deadlines for recommendations slip past. Send an email reminder at least two days in advance. “I just wanted to remind you that the deadline for emailing the letter of recommendation is __________. Please let me know if I can provide any other information to help you with the letter. Thanks so much….”

#7 – Send a thank-you email.

Be sure to thank the faculty members who have written letters for you — and let them know what happened regarding the internship or job you were applying for.

I’ve found that an email can be more helpful for me than a hand-written thank-you note. Sometimes when I’ve received a particularly good thank-you email, I include that in my annual evaluation package for my department chair to see.

Best wishes with your job search.

Now, back to writing letters of recommendation.

5 comments

  1. Another great post! I’m sharing this with my students. Thanks Julie! ~Calvin

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    1. Calvin – Let me know if you or your students have any tips to share or questions regarding letters of recommendation.

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  2. […] Here is a link to Julie Dodd’s post: https://thoughtsonteaching.wordpress.com/2013/10/31/tips-for-asking-for-letters-of-recommendation/ […]

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  3. […] thought the list of tips regarding letters of recommendation was very interesting and […]

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  4. […] previous post — “7 tips to keep in mind as you ask faculty members to write letters of recommendation for you” – provides suggestions for recruiting those important […]

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