What are recommendation letters for?
Employers and application review committees use the letters as part of your application package to decide if they want to pick you.
Typical application package:
- Cover letter/personal statement
- Recommendation letters
- Standardized test scores
How many letters will I need?
- 5 for pre-professional health committee for medical or dental school
- 3 for biology-related PhD programs
- ~2 for many jobs
- 1-2 for research fellowships
Steps to asking someone to write a Letter of Recommendation:
- Email and ask the (potential) writer if they can write you a positive letter of recommendation. Ask what information they would like from you. Most writers request 2-4 weeks minimum notice.
- Set up a meeting with the writer.
- Send all the necessary documents to the writer (name the files with your name and type of file. Example: J_Smith_Resume.pdf)
- Letter of Recommendation Worksheet
- Personal Statement
- Complete list of specific schools and programs you are applying to with:
- Due date
- Method of submission
- Link to the program description website
- Close to the due date, send one polite reminder email.
- Send a thank you note after the letter is written.
- Once you decide which fellowship/grad program/etc. you will participate in, let the writer kow.
- Keep in touch.
Here are some worksheets to use when soliciting a letter of recommendation:
Letter of Recommendation Worksheet (to give your letter writers)
Letter Writer pet peeves:
- Not enough lead time: Initial contact, follow up contact(s)
- Unorganized package & information
- All documents should be in consistent format—files saved with your name_type (Ex. Kaufmann_CV_feb2014).
- Missing information
- Demonstrate your organization—make a check list and check it twice.
- Poorly written resumes and personal statements
- Ask your letter writer to give you comments and suggestions if they have time.
- Student panic on due date—there is flexibility. Trust your letter writer. Do follow up.
- Not identifying yourself—names, class section, other identifiers.
- Never hearing if they got in or where they went. We want to celebrate you! We want to learn so we can help future students.
Words of caution:
- Writers (and employers, etc.) may google you before they write a letter
- Expect all interactions to be taken into account
- Be polite and professional in emails, before/after class, during class, etc.
Letter of Recommendation Competencies
# Top competencies employers look for in employees - Forbes Magazine % Core competencies for entering Medical Students - AAMC(American Association of Medical Colleges) ! Competencies for Research Fellows - NSF(National Science Foundation)
Thinking, Reasoning, & Science
critical thinking %
quantitative reasoning & analysis # % !
scientific inquiry %
intellectual merit !
technical knowledge & skills # &
science knowledge %
obtain & process information #ability to perform creative research ! %
ethical responsibility %
reliability & dependability %
resilience & adaptability % !
capacity for improvement %
make decisions & solve problems #
plan, organize, & prioritize work #
motivation to succeed !work independently !
service orientation % !
social skills %
cultural competence % !
teamwork # % !
oral communication # %
written communication # % !
leadership skills !
ability to sell & influence others #