How to Get a Great Recommendation Letter

Jessica Shaffer
Jessica Shaffer
5th Grade Teacher; MA in Administration & Leadership, Georgian Court University, NJ

There is a fine art to receiving the “perfect” recommendation letter. Besides asking the appropriate people to write letters for you, there’s a little effort you will need to put into it yourself. As part of an application process to attend graduate school, or part of the process of applying for jobs post-graduation, the recommendation letter can add a significant amount of strength to your application.

When Should You Ask for a Letter of Recommendation

As it can be a bit time-consuming to write a letter of recommendation, you want to ask at least four weeks in advance of the due date of the application. You want to be sure to give the person you are asking plenty of time to write the letter, so you get the best letter possible. When a letter is rushed, all the information that you wish to be included may not make it into the letter. If it is possible, ask for a letter of recommendation via a phone call or meeting, as this is a more personal way to obtain the letter. You should then follow up with an email containing pertinent information the letter should include.

Who Should You Ask

When you are filling out an application that requires a letter of recommendation, you want to create a list of various people that you feel would write you a good letter of recommendation. You want to choose people that have influenced your life in a positive way and people that respect you and that you know will put their heart into writing the letter. You want the reader to feel that you are the best candidate for the program/career you are applying for and feel the passion the writer has for you to achieve your goals.

Previous professors, employers, or leaders of somewhere you volunteered are great people to ask to write a letter for you. Individuals with titles of importance such as professor, CEO, owner, general manager, etc., are excellent people to write a letter of recommendation for you.

How to Get a Great Recommendation

A good recommendation letter will be at least one page long but no longer than two. When you ask for a letter of recommendation, you should email your current resume to the writer and additionally bullet point a few items in the email that you feel important to include in the letter. This will help the person to create an outstanding letter and may even speed up the process since you are including much of what the body of the letter will contain.

As far as specific items to include, it is important to include achievements and also the challenges you have overcome. A letter that shows you have desired character traits such as perseverance, grit, and determination are a great way to paint yourself the best way possible. Two or three specific examples, briefly described, are a great addition to the recommendation letter.

You want to discuss with the person writing what you have learned from them and how they have helped to shape your life. It is important for the writer to illustrate the connection that the two of you have in the letter. An individual reading the letter will be able to develop a feeling for you through this letter.

The letter of recommendation is just one part of the application, but it can be a part that sets you apart from other candidates. This is a strong addition to your resume, personal statement, and actual application. As Lailah Gifty Akita said, “The best recommendation letter is our lives. Everyone can read our actions and our deeds.” Recommendation letters including the best parts of your life and who you are can be the difference in getting the interview or not.

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