Soliciting Good Letters of Recommendation

Whether applying for a job or applying to grad school, you’ll need at least three people to recommend you, and you will want them to write strong letters on your behalf. The strength of the letters you solicit depends as much upon you as on the letter writers. You will want to help faculty write “good” letters—that is, letters that highlight the particular characteristics and accomplishments that make you a good fit for the professional position or graduate admission that you seek. So, when you ask us to write you a letter

  • Remind us who you are and how we know you. Which class(es) did you take with us? How was your work in that class pertinent to the position you’re applying for? For example, did you research a topic that demonstrates your interest in teaching issues or in working with particular student populations? Did your work in the course introduce you to specific works or theories that sparked an interest you want to pursue?  Did the course provide practice in research or analytical methods that have helped prepare you for further graduate study? Did you collaborate successfully on a group project, provide effective feedback on fellow students’ work,  present your research at a conference or help out at a local professional event?
  • Tell us what position or type of graduate program you are applying for, and tell us why you chose to apply.  Show us the job description or program profile. What appeals to you about this workplace or this graduate program? Why are you excited about applying there? Show us a draft of your application letter or personal statement so we understand the case you are making for yourself.
  • Tell us what you’d like us to highlight that will help you make your case.  Of all the things we know about you, which will be most important to mention on this occasion for these readers? In short, help us help you!

-- Nancy Penrose