Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC
Associate Professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department
Anne Arundel Community College
Dr. Darian Senn-Carter
Professor + Interim Director of the Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute
Anne Arundel Community College
Gaining a full-time faculty position can be very competitive. One way to set yourself apart from the tons of other qualified candidates would be to have outstanding letters of recommendation. Just as we encourage students to seek recommenders who will write glowing letters, the same is true for individuals seeking faculty appointments. Excellent letters of recommendation can be the only part of an application packet that sets you apart from the rest of the pool, especially if you have similar qualifications and credentials. This post will share four items to include in a letter of recommendation for faculty candidates to stand out.
Introduction (of self and explanation of relationship with applicant)
It is vital first to understand the audience for your letter and to tailor the letter to each specific application. Recommendation letters should include an introduction of the recommender and an introduction of the applicant. The applicant’s introduction is essential to establish who the applicant is and what they are applying for. In the introduction of the recommender, emphasize what uniquely qualifies you to endorse the applicant. Detail your profession, credentials, and relationship to the applicant, including the length of time you have known the applicant. The introduction should concisely establish your intent to provide a strong endorsement of the applicant.
A large portion of the recommendation letter should speak to the applicant’s qualifications. We encourage recommenders to closely match the job posting details with the applicant’s strengths and capabilities. Here, you will want to clarify how the applicant’s qualifications align and overlap with the employer’s needs. Here is where the recommender will need to connect the dots, not assuming that the employer will make connections on their own. When drafting the letter’s qualifications section, consider the applicant’s teaching effectiveness, service, awards and recognitions, and other related work experience.
Academic excellence with examples
When sharing examples of the applicant’s record of academic excellence, you should include their teaching effectiveness, commitment to student success, and impact on students. Having an outstanding record of academic excellence is essential, as higher education provides teaching and learning processes to advance students’ knowledge and skill development. Consequently, academic excellence is the paramount focus of faculty. As faculty, content knowledge is demonstrated through mastery and currency of knowledge. Recommendation letters should prominently feature the applicant’s academic excellence with specific examples. Areas that might speak to an applicant’s academic excellence include course and curriculum design, innovative teaching and/or research practices, practical advising/mentoring approaches, and fostering collegial collaboration and relationships.
Department, college, school, community service
Higher education relies upon faculty members’ time, energy, and resources to accomplish its institutional mission to support students. If academic excellence is the primary focus for faculty, service is the second focus. Through departmental, college, and school service, faculty can contribute and participate in institutional shared governance. In addition to institutional service (department, college, and school), faculty also provide service to the community through scholarship and sharing of expertise. Therefore, recommenders should include the applicant’s service experience specific to the position with examples highlighting success and effectiveness.
Academic and professional experience
Recommendation letters for faculty positions should emphasize the applicant’s knowledge, skills, and abilities as an academician and areas of expertise that the applicant is passionate about. This emphasis should include descriptions with examples. Faculty are subject matter experts in their respective fields and must actively explore, expand, and deepen their knowledge as subject matter experts. Typically, faculty have developed their expertise in their particular discipline overtime via educational and professional experiences. Moreover, experts maintain a rigorous program of ongoing study in their field. Faculty are responsible for advancing their professions and enhancing the quality of scholarly and professional organizations. Therefore, recommendation letters should speak to the strides applicants are making in this area.
Awards and recognition
While the applicant will likely include awards and recognition in their application materials, including awards and recognition in recommendation letters will highlight specific accolades for the search committee. Awards recognizing the applicant’s contributions in teaching, profession, the community, and students are all noteworthy. Here you can also speak to the qualities, characteristics, and transferable skills the applicant demonstrated to earn the award and recognition.
Recommenders should conclude the letter with a strong endorsement. It would be best to be specific and explicit with exemplary qualities (positive traits, skills) that resonate with you about the applicant. Again, recommendation letters should start with a strong applicant endorsement that is then supported with specific experiences and examples. To conclude, recommendation letters directly relate the applicant’s qualifications with the position they are applying for (it is best to include some specific information about the position, department, school, or college). Be sure to explicitly state your endorsement of the applicant, emphasizing their potential contributions. Lastly, include your contact information and offer to be of assistance should the search committee require any additional information.
Recommendation letters should be personalized
Recommendation letters should be personalized, demonstrating a genuine connection between the applicant and recommender. Search committees are tasked with reviewing many application packets, and generic recommendation letters can adversely impact the review of an applicant when the recommendation letter does not indeed strengthen the application. Recommendation letters should be written by those who know the applicant and can speak to their knowledge, skills, and abilities without reservation. Recommendation letters should only come from those who feel comfortable supporting the applicant and can provide a positive, enthusiastic, genuine, and personalized letter.
Feel free to join us in the conversation on Twitter at @TomlinAntione or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dariansc/.
Darian Senn-Carter, EdD, is a tenure-track Full Professor + Interim Director of the Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Institute at Anne Arundel Community College. Dr. Senn-Carter is also an ICF Certified Life Coach.
Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC is a tenure-track Associate Professor + Chair of the Academic Literacies Department at Anne Arundel Community College. Dr. Tomlin is also an ICF Certified Life Coach.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.