Letter of Recommendation: Do’s and Don’ts
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.