How To Write A Glowing Letter Of Recommendation
As a college professor, I write quite a few letters of recommendations for students who are applying for scholarships, graduate school, and jobs. I put a lot of time into writing these letters because I want my students to be successful. I’ve also been the reader of many letters of recommendation because I have been on several scholarship committees. Because I’ve been on both ends (writer and reader of letters of recommendation), I feel qualified to give some tips to people who are writing letters of recommendation.
- Ask for as much Information as Possible. (If they don’t want to go to the trouble to get this information to you, they must not want this opportunity too badly.) When a student asks me to write a professional letter of recommendation, I ask them for a resume/vitae, a statement/essay, and their transcripts. I also ask my students for a list of classes they’ve taken from me and the grades they have received in them. I could look this up, but it gives me more time to focus on writing a great letter if they can provide me with this information beforehand.
- Know what they are Applying for. Is it a scholarship? What is the scholarship for? Community involvement? Academic achievement? You want to know what to highlight in the letter. If you are writing a letter for a job applicant, know as much as possible about the job. Don’t just send a generic letter. Try to show how this person would be great for that specific position. If you have to write several letters for the same individual, I recommend writing a “base” letter and tailoring it for each position or graduate school. Anyone who reads and evaluates letters can tell you that a little bit of “specialization” makes a big difference.
- State the Basics at the Start of the Letter. How do you know the person? How long have you known them? Make sure you mention all the different capacities in which you interacted with the person. I may write that I had a person as a student, but also that I was the advisor for a student organization they were in or that I mentored them about graduate school opportunities. If you want your letter to be taken seriously, you should try to show that you know the person well.
- Write something INTERESTING. Don’t just write that someone is civic-minded. Give an example of their civic involvement. Instead of just saying they are outgoing, give an anecdote that shows they are outgoing. Many people just browse over letters of recommendation. Make yours interesting enough so they will take the time to read it!
- Avoid Writing about things that might Turn off some People. I once wrote a letter to someone who had volunteered for Planned Parenthood. I know that some people are not supporters of Planned Parenthood, so I left this off the letter because I wasn’t sure how the readers would perceive it. (Of course, if she had applied at a clinic similar to Planned Parenthood, I would have included her volunteer experience.)
- If you have a Title, be Sure to Use that as you Sign off in Order to Show Credibility. I typically don’t care if people call me “doctor,” but I always make sure I add “PhD” after my name on a letter of recommendation.