Letter of Recommendation: Do’s and Don’ts

By | February 28, 2019

A good recommendation takes time to write. The letter provides decision-makers or employers with a clear and straightforward assessment of you from a perspective your recommender values and respect. Make sure the person writing your recommendation knows you and your credentials well. Knowing your Resident Advisor(s), Hall Director, Resident Director(s), Minority Peer Advisor(s), Academic Peer Advisor(s), faculty member, or other university administrators is highly suggested. If they know you well enough, they will write a knowledgeable recommendation for you. Remember, it is just as hard for this person to write a powerful recommendation for you unless they have had some kind of on-going relationship.

What you need to know and do

  • If the person knows you well enough they will not have any trouble writing a letter of recommendation for you. It is always advisable to ask for a recommendation in person. Set up an appointment to meet with them and make sure you discuss in detail why you need the letter of recommendation.
  • Familiarizing yourself with the position for which you need the recommendation is an essential first step. Study your qualities, skills, and experiences that distinguish you as a good contender for the position. You may need to make out a list of your strong points and share this list with the person writing your letter of recommendation.
  • Be very specific of what you expect to be included in the letter. Due date and time of the recommendation is important as it is necessary to give the person enough time to do his/her work. It is also important to communicate that you are required to hand deliver your recommendation in a sealed envelope.
  • Make sure you hold up your end of the bargain. It is not good to let any one write a recommendation for you and then end up not submitting your application. If, for any reason, you chose not to pursue the application for any of the Resident Education positions, please let him/her know.
  • Finally, aside from thanking them for writing the letter on your behalf, one of the best ways to express your gratitude is to let them know the outcome. Even in the event that you are unsuccessful, still write a note to thank them for their time.

Letter of Recommendation

Strong and well-developed letters can highlight your potential for top schools. What makes a strong recommendation? The writer should know you well, be able to give specifics about your potential, and have firsthand contact with your professional work. In this regards, your direct supervisor or previous employer is a perfect choice. It’s fine to go to the higher level as long as the writer is still someone who knows you well. Letters from peers are generally discouraged. Satisfied clients who you have worked with are often excellent choices to write recommendations.
After you select the right recommenders, try your best to “coach” your writer on what constitutes a strong recommendation. Here are several tips that will help you:

  • discuss your project and remind them of your achievements
  • provide them with a draft of your application and resume as a guide for consistency

In most cases, your letters of recommendation will require considerable time and care. They should be requested at least six weeks before your target posting date, and you should take care to gently monitor your writers’ progress so that deadlines aren’t missed.

  • establish clear and reasonable deadlines for completion (six to eight weeks)
  • give them a call after three or four weeks to find out how the letters are progressing

Finally, if your recommenders have little experience in recommendation, remind them of the following five Do’s and five Don’ts:

  • Review a copy of the applicant’s personal statement and resume so that the letter of recommendation comply with the rest of your application.
  • Discuss how well he or she know you.
  • Choose two to three qualities that best describes you and support his or her statements of your qualities with specific examples.


  • Use generalities and platitudes.
  • Include only strength, but not weakness.