Recommendation Letters

12 April 2010 at 11:46 am 3 comments

| Peter Klein |

Like most academics, I often write recommendation letters for students and colleagues, and sometimes ask for them myself. There’s an art to getting a good recommendation letter, much of it nicely summarized by Jodi Glickman Brown on her HBR blog. In short, 1) highlight [the writer's] qualifications, 2) provide a template, and 3) offer a “no questions asked” policy. I’d add a conceptual note: Consider the recommendation letter an additional channel for information, beyond those the letter-reader will already have. Letters that simply repeat information contained in the candidate’s CV, academic transcripts, writing samples, application forms, and the like do not add value Ask yourself what you want the reader to know about you that isn’t otherwise be obvious from the rest of your dossier. The letter is your opportunity to get this information out. But the letter-writer has to know what you have in mind.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gabrielrossman  |  12 April 2010 at 12:02 pm

    the “no questions asked” thing is very good advice. there have been many times when i’ve tried to politely tell students that i don’t know them well enough to write a good letter but they won’t take the hint.

    which leads to my second point, that part of getting a letter is getting to know people well enough that they can write an informative letter. this is particularly a problem for students at big state schools like UCLA where the structure doesn’t exactly encourage a lot of direct interaction. so i would add, meet people in a sustained way if you think you might need their help. for state school undergrads this would mean things like doing the honors program (which usually involves small sections and directed research).

  • 2. David Gerard  |  12 April 2010 at 1:00 pm

    And be sure not to call anyone a “hard worker”

  • 3. FC  |  13 April 2010 at 2:22 am

    The more interesting question to me is why grades and test scores are so devalued that letters are used at all. If the admissions comittee does not know the recommender, even if only by reputation, what is the point?

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