Requesting Letters of Recommendation

So you’re applying for a job/scholarship/fellowship/postdoc/study abroad program/etc… Great!

I’ve made this page to help streamline the process for writing letters of recommendation, so that you can know what to expect from me, and how you can help me write the best letter possible.

I get asked to write many dozens of letters per year (sometimes many dozens at a time from dozens of people), so it’s hard for me to keep track of all of the information for all of each person’s applications. The info below will help make sure that 1) you get the best, most informative, helpful letter from me, and 2) I actually send it to the place I need to send it by the deadline.

First: If there’s an option, always waive your right to view your letters of recommendation.

For All Letters

If you’re requesting a letter for me for a specific program/scholarship/job, etc, this information is relevant to everyone.  If you’re requesting multiple letters from me (e.g., lots of grad schools, jobs, etc), I’ll have additional information below.

When you request a letter or when I agree to write one

You’ll probably want to refresh my memory on any classes I’ve had you in, and any other experiences you’ve had with me that are relevant (e.g., research assistantships, etc). Remind me when they were, what you did, what your grades were, and why I’m a good candidate for writing a letter for you. I always include descriptions of how and how well I know someone in my letters, and you can help me make sure this is as complete and accurate as possible. If you can’t provide me these details, I certainly won’t remember them, which means I’m not a good candidate to be a letter writer for you. Also, be aware that it is my duty to be accurate and honest in my assessment of you (including weaknesses and/or areas in which I have not observed your performance). If you’re concerned about this, again, I am not a good candidate to be a letter writer for you.

When it comes time for me to write the letter

When it actually comes time for me to write the letter for you, there is a lot of information that you can provide me that will help me write a good and accurate letter for you.  Most of this information will be relevant for most things I’m writing letters for, but some things may be optional for some circumstances:

  1. Your transcripts. So I can look at your overall experience in school
  2. A resume/CV. So I can see what else you’ve worked on, and what other relevant experiences you’ve had for the job/program/scholarship/etc that you’re applying for.
  3. Your personal statement/statement of purpose/research proposal for the job/scholarship/internship/postdoc/etc. So that I can tailor my letter to your specific proposal.
  4. A description of anything you would specifically like me to highlight in the letter.
  5. The due date.
  6. How I am to submit the letter (Will I get a link? Do I email it to someone? Do they need a hard copy?).

Before the letter is actually due

It’s impossible for me to keep track of everyone’s letter due dates (I can barely keep track of my own due dates), so you need to keep me on my toes. Until you’ve gotten an email from me telling you that I’ve sent the letter, assume that I have not.

Therefore, you should send me reminder emails.  I recommend at least three reminder emails:

  1. 1-2 weeks before the due date
  2. 2-3 days before the due date
  3. On the due date

Once you’ve gotten an email from me saying I’ve sent the letter, you can cancel all future reminders.  But remember until I send you an email confirming that I’ve sent the letter, assume that I have not.

If you’re requesting multiple letters

If you’re applying to multiple jobs or grad programs or whatnot, it will help me (and you) keep track of everything if you make a spreadsheet that lists all of your applications, and share it with me via Google docs. That way you can update it as necessary, and I can always see the most updated version.

The spreadsheet should minimally have lists including:

  1. Name of each program (including the specific major/job title/etc)
  2. The department
  3. The person/people you’re applying to work with (for grad school and postdocs, or possibly study abroad programs)
  4. The due date for the letter
  5. The method of letter delivery (email, link, hard copy, etc)
  6. A description of why that program and advisor. This is especially important for grad school applications, but also relevant to other types of jobs (including faculty jobs and postdocs). It is important to target your applications wisely and describe why your interests would make a good fit for that person/lab/program/department. I need to echo these in my letter. If you’re applying to one grad program for speech pathology and another one for theoretical syntax (for example — though, this should be a red flag if you’re casting a net that wide), I’ll need some help explaining your core interests and why you make a good match for that person/program/department.

Note that all of the info I described above for individual letters is still relevant.  Your personal statements, CV, a reminder of how/when we’ve worked together and why I’m a good letter writing candidate is still helpful to me.