Employers, graduate programs and professional programs use letters of recommendation to address your work ethic and professionalism. Strong letters of recommendation address more than your performance in a class, for example. As such, it is imperative that you work to establish a professional relationship with some of your professors. This should be done throughout your undergraduate career and can include regular meetings with a professor to discuss class material or related topics in the news. Working with a professor outside of class on a project, such as during an internship or independent study, is an excellent way for a professor to get to know you so that she/he can later provide specific examples of why you are suited for the job, academic program, etc.
The most useful types of letters will come from individuals who know you well and can speak of your academic, and/or professional skills, such as an employer or professor. Recommendations from people who know you socially but not professionally or academically, such as a lacrosse coach, family friends, relatives or choir director, are less useful. Other recommendations which may be less useful include those from people who do not know you well enough to discuss your attributes, such as professors from large lecture sections you never spoke to individually, or famous individuals whom you have met once.
Most letters will contain the following information:
- how long the recommender has known the student and in what capacity
- the degree to which the individual recommends the student
- the student’s skills
- work ethic
- ability to work with others
- genuine interest in the field
- responsibility level
- work ethic
- organization ability
- leadership skills
When requesting a letter of recommendation, inquire about the following two points (Schwietzer, 2006):
- Do they have time to write a recommendation for you? A well-crafted and effective recommendation letter takes time and effort. Allow the recommender two full weeks to complete the letter.
- Are they comfortable writing a strong letter on your behalf? If not, thank them for their honesty and ask to hear their constructive feedback for your own benefit.
Schwietzer, K. 2006. Tips for Choosing your Recommender: An excerpt from The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions. Available from: http://businessmajors.about.com/od/recommendationletter1/a/RecExcerpt.htm