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How to Land the Ideal Letter of Recommendation

So you’re advancing yourself professionally — good for you! Whether you’re applying for a new job, grant, or volunteer position, a strong letter of recommendation goes a long way. Here are 10 tips and tricks for requesting and receiving that perfect letter of recommendation.

1. Review the requirements for your letters.

Do you need a certain number of faculty members or supervisors to recommend you? Don’t mess this up! Not following directions can harm your application review.

2. Before you begin, ask your potential recommender this question.

“Can you serve as a positive reference?” There is a huge difference between someone being a reference (yes, I worked with them) versus being a strong, positive reference (they’re an all-star, and you’re a fool not to let them in). A letter of recommendation adds depth to your application in ways you cannot on your own. You can say you’re a great leader but without a strong positive reference to back it up, how do the reviewers know?

3. Allow for some time.

You’re busy, and so are your recommenders. Ideally you should request the letter before tackling anything else in the application since the recommendation process takes the most time. After you identify your recommenders, give them a month to complete the letter.

4. Meet with your recommender to go over your material.

They are helping you out; the least you can do is schedule 10–15 minutes to catch up and walk them through what you would like them to do. If you can’t meet them in person, schedule a phone call. This allows them to ask questions, get to know why you are excited about the program(s), and offer any advice they might have.

5. Provide them with plenty of information.

Provide the following in a folder with your name and due date on the front:

  • Your résumé
  • Your transcript and relevant work experience
  • A brief summary of each program you are applying to. This includes
    • Program title
    • Full name of the organization or institution
    • Whom to address the letter to
    • Website with program or position details
    • Any additional information required in the recommendation

6. Give them an early deadline.

Life happens. Give your recommender wiggle room. Don’t ask for the letter back on the same date your application is due. That’s a mess waiting to happen!

7. Be prepared to follow up.

Again, life happens. I hate to break it to you, but this is not their priority. Send them a gentle reminder, such as the following:

Dear [Name],

I am checking in to see if you need any further information for my letter of recommendation. Will [date we set together] still work for you? I deeply appreciate you taking the time to help me advance professionally.

That might put some fire under their feet, or you may have to follow up again. Don’t overdo it; allow a couple of days between check-ins.

8. Go to them to pick it up.

You’re asking them to do a favor for you; meet them where they are (unless you are only communicating digitally).

9. Follow up with a thank-you note.

After the application is submitted, don’t forget to update your recommender on your progress. You got an interview? Yay! Didn’t make it? Too bad. Either way, they’re with you on this journey and they want you to succeed.

10. Don’t ask for a copy of your letter.

Unless your recommender instructs otherwise, trust them to submit the letter themselves. If they give you a copy, all the better!

Want some support or advice? Tweet me @eraoftherose. (And don’t forget to follow @NCCWSL.) We need more strong women advancing themselves. I would love to cheer you on!

Want more leadership tips? For more than 30 years, NCCWSL has provided a transformative experience for the next generation of leaders. Join us from May 30 through June 2, 2018.

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This blog was written by NCCWSL steering committee member Emily Ancinec.



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By:    January 25, 2018