Letters of Recommendation for Employment or for Graduate School

Whether you are registering with the College's Career Center, applying to graduate programs, or in search of a vocational position, you will undoubtedly be asked to furnish letters of recommendation from your professors or others who know you well. Perhaps you will be given forms to have filled out, or perhaps the letter can be more individualistic. In any event, there is a protocol to be followed when requesting someone to serve as a referee.

  1. Ask for a letter well before the date it is due. Nothing is more irritating to the referee than to be asked to write a letter of recommendation under pressure.

  2. Ask the referee cordially and formally. A handwritten note slipped under the door with "I need these 10 letters out by Friday" will not evoke the kindest recommendation. You are requesting a significant favor; do it politely and sensitively.

  3. Be sure to supply the following information as a minimum: full name, major classes taken (also when and grade earned) from the referee and other classes taken in the department, relevant classes taken in other departments, special skills or talents, statement of career interests and goals, list of professionally relevant extracurricular and summer activities, honors, professional associations, formal research experience (papers written, read, submitted for publication), and anything else which would serve to identify you and your strengths. The more specific information your reference has about you and your leadership roles, the better the letter he or she can write

  4. Provide the full name, title, and complete mailing address of the person to whom a letter should be written. Please provide an addressed and pre-stamped envelope with each letter request. Unless you have been given other instructions, the letter should be addressed to mail directly to the graduate school or employer.

  5. Be sure to indicate for what purpose the letter is being written, (e.g., Master of Science program in child development, probation officer for juvenile substance abuse offenders, etc.). The more specific the purpose, the more specific (and pertinent) the letter.

  6. Prepare a self-addressed (to you), stamped postcard with the message on the back: "To (whomever the letter of recommendation is to be sent): Please mail this card if a letter of recommendation concerning me has been received from (name of your reference)." Sign your name, and ask the referee to include it with his/her or form. If you do not receive the card in a few weeks, check on the status of the letter.

  7. You have a legal right to see letters written about you unless you waive that right. Waving that right is somewhat risky, but the letter carries more weight if it is confidential. Recipients place more credence on letters which are not read by students. Therefore we recommend that you waive your rights to read the letter or form. If you are in doubt about the kind of recommendation the referee will write, ask. Most referees, if they cannot in good conscience write a good letter, will tell you so.