Letters of Recommendation

Shamelessly stolen from my colleague David Barbella.

Hi there –

If you’re interested in having me write a letter of recommendation for you, here are the steps you should take. This will make it as easy as possible for me to write the strongest letter I can, which is important for both of us.

1) Get in touch with me as soon as you know you’ll be needing a letter from me. The more lead time you can give me, the better, especially during parts of the year when letters are in high demand. A month is ideal; if I hear from you less than a week before the deadline, I likely will not be able to craft a letter for you. We’ll meet to discuss the jobs or programs you’re applying for.  Do this before you fill out applications, if possible.

Most programs will provide you with a place to provide the names and email addresses of people who will write your letters. You should always ask recommenders if they are willing and able to write you a letter before you put their names down. If given the option, you should always waive the rights to view your recommendations; if you do not do this, there is a good chance that your recommendation will not be given full weight, and many people are not comfortable writing letters if the rights to view them are not waived. I will not agree to write you a letter if I’m not going to write you a good one, so don’t worry about that.

2) After I agree to write you a letter, get me the following things, together, in an e-mail:

  • A resume or CV, if you have one. If you don’t have one, this is a good time to put one together.
  • A transcript (unofficial is fine) of the coursework you’ve done at Earlham and elsewhere.
  • A list of projects you’ve worked on that you think are cool, and a list of opportunities you’ve taken advantage of outside of classes (such as conferences, hackathons, workshops, training, student leadership, etc.), if these aren’t on your CV.
  • A draft of the application letter you’re using to apply to the programs or jobs. If you don’t have one, an outline of why you’re applying to the program or job.
  • Any other information you think would be helpful for me to craft a strong letter. Don’t be afraid of bragging. Remember that you might have skill sets that I have no idea exist.
  • Any information about how the letters should be submitted. (Most places do it electronically, but that still isn’t universal.)
  • If you need letters sent to multiple places, a big table detailing each place a letter needs to go and what the deadline is.

This might seem like a lot, but this is all information you’ll want to have anyway, if you’re applying to most types of position.

3) If anything happens before the deadline that you think I should include, keep me up to date.

4) As the deadline approaches, it can be helpful to send me a reminder a few days in advance, just in case.

5) After you hear back from the places you’ve applied, please let me know how it went.

Some final notes:

If I agree to write you a letter, I’m agreeing to write you a strong, enthusiastic letter. If I don’t think I can do that for you, I’ll tell you that up front. It’s a waste of both of our time for me to agree to write you a letter and then write a negative letter or one that makes only a weak recommendation. While I will always be honest in any letter I write, you don’t need to worry that I’m going to secretly write you a negative letter.