letter writer

This post continues our series, The Smart Scholar.

With spring here, now is the time I often get letter of recommendation requests from students and colleagues who are looking to secure an upcoming school or employment opportunity. In my last post I discussed the letter of recommendation writing process from the perspective of the letter writer. In this post I provide three suggestions on how individuals should proceed with asking for and securing letters of recommendation.

Select your letter writer wisely

As someone who has sat on a number of search committees I often can see the difference in letters of recommendation that come from someone who knows the candidate well from a letter writer who cannot draft a persuading letter about the candidate’s ability. As a result, I want you to seriously consider who you select as your letter writer. Some questions you might consider are:

  • Does this person know me well enough to discuss my work?
  • Do we have a relationship where they would be willing to write a letter for me?
  • Will this person be the best fit as a letter writer for the position I am seeking?

If you are unsure how to answer the aforementioned questions, it may be in your best interest to have another individual write your letter of recommendation. Given you want strong letters of recommendation, select colleagues who can speak to your abilities from first-hand experience. I always find that those letters feel the strongest.  

Make a well-timed request

When talking with some colleagues recently, they mentioned students requesting letters of recommendation mere days before their graduate school applications were due. In our conversation we all came to the conclusion that those students must not have seriously wanted a genuine letter of recommendation!

While it may seem like simple advice, if you are requesting a letter of recommendation, it is in your best interest not to wait until the last minute to make your request. It is important to plan ahead because you never know how many other letters your recommender needs to write for other folks. Getting on their radar sooner than later is a benefit as it will increase the chances of them completing the letter for you.

In most circumstances you know what your application deadline is well in advance. Thus, I would reach out to potential letter writers at a time that would allow for them to take 4-5 weeks to write your letter.

Provide a letter template

From personal experience, I have found that folks whom I reach out to for letters of recommendation have many colleagues and students who have also requested letters of recommendation from them. As a result, I want to make the experience of writing a letter for me as easy as possible. One practice I’ve started doing is actually providing a rough draft of a letter of recommendation to them when I request their assistance.

You may be asking yourself, “Well, why am I writing this letter? This is why I am requesting my colleague to do this!”

Providing a starting point makes writing the letter of recommendation easier. Additionally, if you create a rough draft you can be sure that your letter reflects the points that you believe are vital to your candidacy for the job or school where you are applying. Moreover, I believe that you drafting a letter shows some initiative to your letter writer who in addition to completing the letter of recommendation could make a call to the organization on your behalf!

Do you have any other advice you would give to individuals seeking letters of recommendation? If so tweet me (@ramongoings) with your recommendations!

Interfolio’s Dossier enables scholars to collect, curate, polish and send out their materials at all stages throughout their academic professional path. Learn more about Dossier here.

Author Bio: Dr. Ramon B. Goings is an assistant professor of educational leadership at Loyola University Maryland. His research examines gifted/high-achieving Black male academic success PreK-PhD, diversifying the teacher and school leader workforce, and the student experience and contributions of historically Black colleges and universities to the higher education landscape. As a writing coach and editor, Dr. Goings enjoys supporting the scholarly development of doctoral students and professors in higher education. For more information about Dr. Goings, please visit his website www.ramongoings.com and follow him on Twitter (@ramongoings).