Saturday, January 19, 2013

Requesting Letters of Recommendation from Faculty

One of the more significant services faculty provide students beyond teaching courses is writing letters of recommendation. As a full-time professor, I (Dr. Mason) write, on average, between 20 and 30 letters of recommendation a year. These letters of recommendation are generally for students who are exiting the program and seeking employment but they can be for other reasons such as for scholarships, internships, awards, employment while still in the program, and even for graduates who are a few years out.

In writing letters of recommendation, most faculty will comment on how they know you and speak to your attitudes, knowledge and skills. If your primary contact with faculty is through courses, they may include statements about your academic performance, your work ethic, participation or how you collaborated with others in class. Being involved in the CSL program and the profession beyond classes can give the faculty member more things to mention in your letter such as participation in special training, events, conferences, research, service or leadership.

How you approach a faculty member about asking for a letter of recommendation matters. Here are some tips to follow:

1. Consider which faculty are best to ask. Generally these are ones you have a positive relationship with and whom can speak accurately about your strengths and potential.

2. Ask in writing. While it is fine to ask face to face, follow up in an email so the faculty member has a record of your request.

3. Ask as early as possible and give a deadline. While it is preferable to give faculty 2 or even 3 weeks to get to your letter, most of us will do our best to respond to shorter deadlines. Do give us a deadline as that will help us prioritize with all the other things we have going on. If we don't think we can meet the deadline, we'll work it out with you.

4. If you are applying to a specific position, provide some information about the position in the email. Copying and pasting within the email in addition to attaching a document with a job description is preferred.

5. An updated copy of your resume is also helpful to provide so that we can get an overview of any other related experience or transferable skills that are worth mentioning.

6. Proofread! We are far from perfect and make our share of mistakes. We certainly don't want our errors to reflect poorly on your chances of getting a job but let's face it, your investment in the job itself is far beyond ours. If we make a mistake, let us know, PLEASE!

7. Say thank you. Most of us would really appreciate a hand written card, email at the least, and while small treats are a bonus, they are not expected or required.

8. Let us know what happens! One of the greatest gifts of being faculty is knowing that students are many times successful and being able to support them if they are not. Keep us posted.