Letters of Recommendation

When applying to higher education institutions or applying to jobs, it is common for the admissions committee or employer to request a letter of recommendation from a former employer or professor. This can be overwhelming, as you are directly entrusting a part of your application into the hands of someone else. This task requires a lot of coordination between you and other people which can present challenges. Read on to learn how you can receive the best letter of recommendation possible.

You Are Not a Burden

It can sometimes be intimidating to ask your professor or boss to take time out of their busy schedule to write a detailed letter on your behalf, especially before a deadline. While it may feel like you are asking a lot of your superiors, if you have proven to be a good worker or student and you have a good relationship with your recommender, the person writing your letter will more than likely be honored to do so. In fact, it is often expected that when one is in a position of power educationally or professionally, there will come a time when they are asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone. As long as you go about asking for this letter of recommendation the right way, you will never be a burden for asking someone to help you with this important task.

Plan in Advance

While you should not feel like a burden for asking someone to write you a letter of recommendation, it is still within your best interest (not to mention, polite), to communicate appropriately with your recommender. It is of utmost importance that you ask your recommender if they consent to writing on your behalf before you list their name and contact information on any application or form. Further, you must make sure to ask your recommender as far in advance as you can manage. Asking your recommender for their letter ahead of time is not only polite to do, (remember— they are devoting their time to your professional wellbeing and need not feel rushed) but it is also important to ensure your letter is written well and on time. The more time you give your recommenders, the more time they have to think about how to best represent you in a letter. This also leaves you with some time to answer any clarifying questions your recommender may need to know before finalizing your letter. 

Ask the Tough Questions

When asking for a letter of recommendation, it is worth noting that not just any recommender will be appropriate. You should always strive to ask for a recommendation from someone who knows you well and can attest to your character as it might apply to this job or graduate program. Getting an executive-level individual to write you a letter of recommendation might be tempting, as the name of the recommender may hold a lot of weight. But if the recommender does not know you well, a big name will not make up for the empty words spoken about you to employers or admissions committees who can detect such indifference. If you ask for a recommendation from someone you do not have a good relationship with (perhaps a professor you have bumped heads with) you risk being written a negative letter of recommendation that will hurt you more than help you (it happens more often than you might think). To avoid these issues, it is important that you ask some frank questions before signing onto a recommender. Don’t just ask someone to write you a letter of recommendation. Specifically ask, “Would you be comfortable writing me a positive letter of recommendation to go with my application to XYZ?” If the answer to the question is no, that’s okay! You can move on by asking someone more compatible who can write more confidently about you. If the answer is yes, then you have an explicit answer as to whether your potential recommender can confidently and appropriately vouch for you to schools and employers to boost your application.

Give Recommenders All the Tools They Need

Even if a recommender knows you well, it is unlikely that they have seen you perform in areas outside of the subject in which you worked or studied together. To make things easier on your recommender and to give your recommender every possible bit of information they can use to exemplify your competencies, it is helpful to send at least a resume to your recommender to aid them in their letter. It is even more effective to create a packet to send to your recommender that includes every possible document and piece of information they may find useful to writing on your behalf. As an example, your packet could include:

  1. Your contact information 
    1. Email
    2. Phone number
    3. Mailing address
    4. LinkedIn link
  2. Information about the class you took with the professor or job you held with your boss
    1. Grade received in classes
    2. Semester class was taken 
    3. Sample work from class
    4. Accomplishments from job
    5. Sample work from job
    6. Position held in job and dates of job
  3. Resume/CV
  4. Other activities or involvement not mentioned on your resume
  5. Unofficial transcript from the place where you received your highest education
  6. Professional goals
  7. Specific information regarding the school/job you are applying to
    1. Deadlines
    2. Specific language from the website outlining what they look for in a candidate
    3. Website of school/employer
    4. Why you want this job or why you are interested in this program

Express Your Gratitude

No one is ever paid extra to write you a letter of recommendation; it is almost always done in the free time of your recommender. Whether you got the position or acceptance letter that you wanted or not, you have to recognize that your recommender spent their own free time working hard to do everything in their power to further your professional interests. It is always a great idea to express your gratitude for this by writing a hand-written thank-you letter or card to your recommender. It can be short and sweet, the important thing is that it is sincere and that the recipient knows that you are grateful for their help. Phone calls and emails expressing your gratitude never hurt but a hand-written note means a lot.

Keep Everyone in the Loop

Because your recommenders have put so much time and effort into furthering your application, they too will usually be invested in the journey. Make it a point to let them know any status updates on your application, especially if you get news of success. It will delight recommenders to know that they played a part in helping you reach your goal and that you care enough to include them in your journey.

 

Letters of Recommendation hold a lot more weight on an application than you might think. A good recommendation could be the tipping point to your success on an application while a poor letter could take you out of the running. Knowing who and how to ask for letters of recommendation will help you secure those positive recommendations that could very well land you your dream job or grad program!

 

– Jordan Mercer, Peer Career Advisor

Receiving Constructive Feedback Gracefully

We’ve all been there…your boss schedules an evaluation for you and your heart starts to race as you question what they might say. Part of being in the workforce is receiving feedback on how you are performing. Although it is meant to provide you with insight on what you are doing right and what you can improve upon so you can be the best at your position, it’s not always easy to hear! This feedback is given so that you can evaluate what you are doing well and what you can improve upon so that you can perform your very best. Sometimes, being told what skills you lack in or which areas you are underperforming in can feel awkward, discouraging, and hurtful. However, that’s not the intent of being provided with feedback. Instead, if you learn how to accept constructive criticism gracefully and use it to your advantage now, you will be prepared to excel in the future.

The first step is to recognize that nobody is perfect, and you are guaranteed to have evaluations in your future, whether scheduled or impromptu.

Once you acknowledge this, then you can start to change the way you view the exchange. It can be helpful to look at it this way: Your employer cares enough about you to be honest with you and help you improve for the future. This is not against you, it is for you to help you find success in your career and to build upon skills that will be applicable no matter what future career you may hold. If you put this into perspective, you’ll be much more likely to not only feel grateful for the advice, but you will also be inspired to improve. 

Beyond ensuring your attitude is positive for your own wellbeing, it is important that you exemplify this positive attitude to your employers rather than getting defensive or making excuses. Further, it goes a long way to let your employers know how you appreciate the feedback and how you are committed to making an improvement for the benefit of the company, the team, and yourself. Your attitude alone can show your employer how committed you are to being the best asset to the organization that you can be. This is important not only for the success of the company but also for your future, as your current employer will likely be contacted by potential employers when you apply to other jobs in the future to provide insight on your performance and character. All employers want someone who is teachable, so by responding gracefully, not only can you personally improve, but you can also demonstrate qualities that all employers seek.

After receiving constructive criticism or feedback, it is important to not only listen but to take action based on the information you are given. Make sure to ask questions to your employer on what you can do to improve your performance. Ask your employers about your strengths: What strengths do you have and how can you use these strengths to improve upon aspects of your work performance you need to better develop? You can take it a step further to demonstrate to your boss that you are committed to improvement and ask to schedule a “progress report” meeting to see how your improvement efforts are going a few weeks after you receive your initial feedback.

Learning how to receive constructive criticism is a vital skill in the workforce and will continually help you advance in your career. Showing employers that you not only know how to take feedback but also apply it will set you apart from other employees and can increase your chances of getting promotions, raises, and glowing recommendations.

 

-Jordan Mercer, Peer Career Advisor

Welcome to the Cougar Career Column!

Hindsight is 20/20, right? Aren’t there times when you wish you could go back and tell yourself the things you’ve learned? It sure would save a lot of trouble and time! Although you can’t give advice to the younger you, you can learn from others who have been there, done that.

The Cougar Career Column will allow you to get the scoop on everything our alumni wish they knew in college as well as tips on how to succeed from your very own colleagues who have begun pursuing professional endeavors. And, of course, our Career Center staff is here to chime in as well. Members from our Career Center team, including staff as well as Peer Career Advisors, will regularly produce helpful content that can be found on the Cougar Career Column.

You don’t have to face the job search alone! You can save yourself time and mistakes by learning from those who are or have recently been in your shoes and succeeded. If the “future you” could give the “present you” any advice, they would tell you that you don’t want to miss this, trust me!

-Camille Hamrick, Career Counselor