A good recommendation letter acts as a stairway to good colleges and to great jobs.
Shreeja Mahambre gives tips on scoring a beyond satisfactory recommendation.
A good recommendation letter goes a long way in getting you into a good college, getting an internship or even your dream job.
Ideally, a recommendation letter speaks more about your personality than your grades and extracurricular activities.
It is a testament of your achievements written by your teacher, coach or your counsellor -- people who have worked with you for a significant amount of time.
To a probable employer or your future college, your recommendation speaks volumes about how you are to work with, what you are actually good at and how well you work under pressure.
It talks about your leadership skills, friendliness and willingness to work individually as well as in groups.
In short, a recommendation plays a poignant role in your future.
This is probably the most important thing a person should do before asking for a recommendation letter.
Your hard work is all that is reflected in the recommendation letter.
If you work hard from the beginning it gives your teachers a lot more to write about in your recommendations.
Working hard doesn't just mean in the academic sense but overall.
The teacher writing your letter will also look at your extracurricular activities, group activities and sports that you participate in.
You should also take an active part in class by being attentive, asking questions and being regular in your work.
Approach the right teacher:
Know which teacher to approach to write this letter for you.
The teacher should know you well so as to highlight your skills adequately in the letter.
They should give a good and honest recommendation.
You can ask teachers who taught you during your early years of school or college and also the teachers who are currently teaching you.
You could also ask adults from outside your schools and colleges like your sports coaches, counsellors or employers, the people who have a good knowledge of your skills, strengths and interests.
Most importantly, don’t rush them into writing it; give them at least a month's time to write the letter.
They will do a better job with your recommendation if they have ample time to think about how they know you best and what they'd like to include in your letter.
Work closely with the teacher
Take on research projects or assignments with the teacher writing your letter so that he or she gets to know small details about your skills, what you are good at and can judge your caliber.
Participate in class and in group activities so that the teacher knows that you can work in groups and connect well with other people.
Seek experiences that will help you build relations with your faculty members so that they can easily write your recommendations.
Also, talk to the teacher about your goals, what you want to do in life and why you are applying for the particular course so that they can write relevant things in your letter.
Tell them what you want
Very often you have to steer the teacher who is writing your letter in a particular direction.
While we do not mean influencing them to an extent that they are biased about you, or prodding them to write something about you that many not be true, you might need to tell them what course you’re applying for, where you’re applying and the basic premise of your future agenda.
This helps the teacher write a recommendation that is best suited for your need.
You could also provide the teacher with your certificates and tell them about your achievements so that they could include and highlight them in your letter.
You could also ask them to mention specific skills in the letters but the steering shouldn’t lead them to write false information in your letter.
Share your awards and accolades
If you are applying to a college, give your teacher who is writing the letter plenty of information to write about.
Make a folder of relevant documents like your résumé, progress cards, statement of purpose, certificates and so on.
This will give the teacher a base to build your letter on.
It is practically impossible for every teacher to know every last detail about all their students, so it’s important to provide this information to them.
Also provide information about the places and the courses that you are applying to.
This will give the teacher an idea about what is actually required of the letter and help them write it better.
Make sure to follow up
Follow up with the teacher regularly.
Ask her/him if they need any additional documents or information from you.
Do remind them too to write your letter as people in positions of such responsibility tend to be rather busy.
When following up be persistent, not annoying.
The professor should be given at least a month’s time to write your recommendation because you are probably not the only one who has requested one.
Also, teachers have a lot of work of their own to do, so reminding them regularly ensures that you get your letter on time and also lets the teacher know that you are passionate about what you are doing.
Dos and don'ts of getting a recommendation letter
This is okay:
- Getting a letter written from a teacher who knows you well
- Picking someone in a position of authority eg the head of a department you are part of, a professor, a counsellor, etc
- Setting up a personal meeting with the person who will write your letter
- Letting the writer know why you need a recommendation
- Asking them to concentrate on aspects you’d like to highlight
- Including your projects, participation in extracurrircular activities and your accomplishments
- Thanking the writer
This is not okay:
- Asking the writer to lie
- Waiting until the eleventh hour for a recommendation letter
- Asking them to rush; this could lead to mistakes
- Faking signatures and letterheads
Image used here for representational purposes only.
Photograph: Wim Mulder/Creative Commons