Recommendation letters are an important piece of an application whether for college, a job, or an internship. They sketch out the applicant’s attributes in a way that cannot be represented in the other parts of the application. Specifically, they give the admissions officer or employer insight into your personality, role in the classroom or workplace, and relationships with teachers and staff. They have the power to give someone a reason to root for you. If your application is not as competitive, strong recommendation letters are especially crucial. For college applications, if your grades are up to par, strong recommendation letters support the remainder of your application and negative letters can be a reason to reject you. I do not mean to scare you or cause any anxiety. My emphasis on “recs” is simply to inform you of their potential power, but I would not do so without giving you the ability to make the best of this component of your application. Here are some tips to make the most of your recommendation letters.
This seems obvious. You get to choose who writes for you, therefore do not choose the teacher who never seemed to be satisfied with you (or anyone else for that matter). Of course, you will want to choose a teacher who will write positively about you. But this may not be as clear a choice as you think. I recommend that you do not simply choose the teacher of the class in which you received the highest marks. If this is for a college application, your grades will already have plenty of spotlight in other portions of your application. In the situation of a job or internship, your grades will most likely be irrelevant.
You are best suited choosing someone that not only can confirm your intelligence, but also your charming smile, willingness to help others, and insightful participation in class. For college applications, you are limited to choosing teachers for formal recommendation letters. In this case, choose a teacher of a class that you were passionate about and in which worked diligently (and hopefully that means you did well!). Even if you did not receive the best score, a teacher knows hard work when they see it. A testimony of your work ethic despite an intellectual or personal struggle can be a lot more fruitful than a reiteration of your great grades. If you are not limited to teachers, you can ask a parent that you babysit for, a former supervisor for your volunteer job, or your dance coach.
Believe it or not, you can influence what someone writes in his or her recommendation letter about you. I know this from experience! My English teacher had agreed to write a recommendation letter for me and while I was confident that she would create a strong one on her own, there were certain things that I was hoping she would include. Now, of course I am not sure if she did considering I was not allowed to read the letter, but at least I know I tried. I wrote her a short letter that looked similar to the letter below.
Dear Mrs. Johnson,
First I would like to thank you for agreeing to write my recommendation letter. I am grateful for your effort and time. This letter is simply to assist you in the process. I would appreciate if you considered mentioning either or both of the following. I think these anecdotes could separate me from other applicants.
– You asked me for a clean copy of my research paper to use as a sample for next year’s class.
– You made copies of my in-class argumentative essay for your AP Lang students to read as an example of how to write the AP style essay.
Thank you for taking this into consideration!
This technique is extremely helpful in inspiring someone to write about specific moments that reveal your attributes. This can work for non-classroom settings too. You can ask a past employer to write about your award as employee of the month or the way you took extra shifts on holidays. If they do not remember these little details, this is your chance to remind them. I did this for two of my teachers, but I made sure to ask permission first. This is key! Some people may not respond well to your input. It may come off as arrogant or pushy if you do not approach it the right way. Speak to your writer first!
Knowledge of Employer.
This is less important for college applications since those recs are not as specific, but recommendation letters for employers often need to connect your skill set to this particular job. In other words, if your letter is all about your communication skills when the job you are applying for does not require such a skill, it would produce insignificant results. When asking someone to write a letter for a job or internship, consider including a brief description of what you would like to do for the company. This can guide your writer to cater their letter to the interests of your potential employer.
Some people give their teachers small gifts as a token of appreciation for writing a letter. Personally, I do not think this is necessary, but a well-written thank you note can do the trick! I recommend asking for the letter either in person or through a letter and the thank you can be done in either of these ways as well. Overall, it is just proper for you to acknowledge the amount of time he or she is sacrificing for your benefit.
You’re one step closer to a great application, prospies. You got this!