Sometimes a letter of recommendation may be called a reference letter. The difference is that a letter of recommendation is usually specifically requested by a party. Usually, this type of letter will be addressed to a specific person or organization.
A prospective employer or higher education organization may request a letter of recommendation to learn more about an applicant. A prospective student or employee may also request a letter of recommendation before they start applying so that they will be able to provide these entities with more information right away.
Asking for a letter of recommendation can feel just as awkward and daunting as asking someone for money. Letters of recommendation are not simple tasks that only take a few minutes out of someone's day. You’re asking a person to analyze your character, and petition an entity to accept you based on what they know about you in essay form. Nevertheless, there is a graceful and less stressful way to approach the matter, and we have included a guide to help you navigate the process.
The first question in your quest to receiving a great letter of recommendation written on your behalf is who to ask. Since letters of recommendation are used for a variety of topics refer to the list below to see who you should approach depending on your situation.
Choose a teacher that you have a good relationship with, and approach them about writing a college recommendation letter for you. This person should be a teacher who you’ve known for a long period of time--preferably one who has taught you before and knows your character.
Just like a student would in high school, choose a professor that you’ve had a lot of interaction with that knows you and has come to know your character. Some college classes can be quite large and some professors may have well over a thousand students in one semester, so be sure that you choose a professor that you’ve had enough interaction with that can effectively write a letter of recommendation. You may have performed well in a specific class, but if you approach your professor and he or she struggles to recollect your name, that's a definite indicator that maybe you should approach someone else.
Ask a friend or an extended family member to write a letter of recommendation for you (sometimes known as a job recommendation letter). Try to avoid asking your parents or siblings to write one for you. Generally, listing parents or immediate family members as references is generally discredited unless you’ve directly worked under them in a business, and even then, recommendations and references still don’t hold much weight because parents and siblings will almost always give positive recommendations, while employers are looking for a more honest, and less biased analysis of your character.
Approach one of your previous supervisors who knows your work ethic and your character, preferably a previous supervisor you have a good relationship with who will write an honest (and positive) letter of recommendation. If a previous supervisor is not ideal, approach a previous or current coworker that you’ve had a good relationship with and who knows your character.
Now that you know who to approach, the next thing to tackle is how. Asking someone to write a personal letter, such as a letter of recommendation for you can an awkward, and kind of nerve-racking situation. On one hand, you want to approach the person with a no-pressure pitch, but at the same time, you need the letter by a certain time because you need it to apply for jobs, scholarships, and colleges. Here are a few tips to help ease approaching your peers, supervisors, or professors:
If someone approaches you and asks you for a letter of recommendation, there may be instances where your schedule does not allow you the time to craft one, or you simply don’t want to write one. These reasons are left to your discretion, however, here are two definite situations when you should always reject a letter request.
One great way to reject a letter request is to simply apologize, and say that you are too busy to write an adequate letter of recommendation for them, or the quality of letter that they deserve. However, you may also flat out say “no”. How you reject someone is left entirely to your own discretion.
Writing a letter of recommendation can seem like a daunting task. Sometimes the hardest part about writing a letter such as this is getting started. Once you finally get off to a good start you may struggle on how to properly organize and structure the document. Here is a step by step guide to help you do so:
Before you begin writing a recommendation letter for someone, there are a few steps you may want to take so you can write the best, well-informed letter that will accurately highlight the person and their accomplishments. Here are a few helpful tips to follow before you begin writing help make your writing process easier.
When emailing a letter of recommendation, you essentially follow the same steps that you would with a physical letter of recommendation; still including the same components, and conducting the same research. One main difference is that since this is a digital correspondence, you do not need to include your contact information at the heading of the letter. Instead, include that information at the bottom, underneath your name. See the example below:
Additionally, in the subject line of the email, simply type “Recommendation” and the applicant's name. Ex. “Recommendation -- Applicants Name”
When writing a letter of recommendation make sure that you include information on who the person you’re recommending is, what specific skills they possess, and why you are recommending them. In other words answer the question: “Who is this, and why should we accept them into our company or school?”
Embellishments. Do not embellish a person's accomplishments, their character, their personality or anything else in the letter. Colorfully describing a person is different than embellishing. For example, a colorful description of someone’s accomplishments would be:
“Jonathan put all of his efforts into scoring high on his SAT. In addition to hiring a tutor, he dedicated two hours each day after school to study his notes, flash cards, and practice his writing abilities.”
An embellishment would be:
“Jonathan put in more hours studying than anyone else in the region. He saved his money all semester to hire the top tutor in the state. His many hours of study finally paid off when he earned one of the top SAT scores in the country.”
Embellishments not only discredit your letter but it also greatly discredits the person you’re recommending.
Depending on the type of letter being written, the tone of a letter of recommendation can vary greatly. Here are some differences between an education-related letter and an employment-related letter.
Academic recommendation letters have several distinguishing characteristics.
Specific Focus -- Education related recommendation letters often focus on the particular school the student is applying for, rather than being general or broad. They’ll often tie in facts about the school and parlay those into why the student would be a great fit.
Character Focused -- These letters often highlight the student's personality and character, providing specific examples as to why he or she would be a great fit for acceptance into the school or program.
Adherent to Submission Guidelines -- Often times, schools or other educational programs will have submission guidelines that limit the length of a recommendation letter, or perhaps the format in which the letter must be submitted (i.e emailed, physical copy, certain margins etc..)
Support -- Employment recommendation letters display an overall support of the candidate to a potential employer.
Explanation -- These types of letters also give an explanation of how the candidate came to be at a place where they are applying for this particular position. Is the candidate applying for this position because budget cuts did not allow them to stay at their previous job? Did the person outgrow their position? Employment recommendation letters explain the proverbial question that all employers want to know: “Why us?”
Structure -- Employment recommendation letters are structured, and not “all over the place”. They essentially answer general questions that employers want to know when considering new candidates. Those questions include:
Below are a few additional resources that provide sample recommendation letters, as well as letter of recommendation templates to further guide you toward writing a strong recommendation letter.
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