by Tyler Seale
Ask for a letter from someone you know: it’s hard enough to write a recommendation letter for someone you know well, let alone someone you don’t know. If you need a LoR, ask someone you feel knows you well enough to be able to not only say you’re a good fit for what you’re applying for, but how and why you would be and their experience with you that proves that. And make sure you’re in good standing with them. If you’ve been a “surly idle-headed lout” (I used a Shakesperean insult generator. You’re welcome) then they probably won’t want to help you out.
Ask them if they would be comfortable writing a good recommendation letter for you. Literally. The words “Would you be so kind as to consider writing a good recommendation letter for me? I’m applying to/for ___ and would truly appreciate a letter of recommendation coming from you!” should come out of your mouth. Flattery never hurts.
Also, make sure the person you ask knows you in the field you’re applying for. For example, if it’s a job, a former employer is usually a good bet because they know how well (or not well but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt) you work. If it’s for an academic program or research position, then a professor is probably the way to go. But in the end it’s who you think can write you the best letter. I ended up asking a professor for a letter of recommendation for a university job (that I THOUGHT I needed but actually didn’t. oops.) and it was stellar. I wanted to cry after I read it… but I didn’t because the only time it is appropriate to cry is “funerals and the Grand Canyon” (Ron Swanson).
Be involved, both with the recommender and outside of their realm of influence. They want to see that you are an active member of orgs and a leader in what you do. They also want to see you involved in the classroom and outside of it. Go to office hours if you want to ask a professor, make sure they know who you are and that you are not doing hoodrat things with your friends in their classroom.
Now, since you’re an accomplished Terry or potential Terry, I will assume you are absolutely perfect and have impeccable time management skills. But just in case you don’t, or you are me, then here is another helpful tip: Start early. Give your recommender about 3 weeks to write the letter. Four at the most, but never less than two. Personally, I find three is long enough for the letter to be the bomb diggity but not so long that they forget and wait until the last minute. Unfortunately, everyone cannot be a time management professional. Most people that you would want a LoR from are probably pretty busy individuals, and you probably aren’t the only person to come around asking for one. Be nice and give them plenty of time to write it—that may be the difference between an average and excellent recommendation, therefore the difference between getting the position and not, therefore the difference between being homeless or employed, therefore the difference between freezing to death under a bridge or living your life. Moral of the story: time = not dying under a bridge.
If you are like me and all the people you vibe with (you can vibe with a prof, just don’t tell them that to their face) are also procrastinators, consider telling them it is due earlier than it is actually due. A white lie never hurt anyone. OR tell them that you will get it from them a week or at a certain time before the deadline. Its also a good idea to check in with them either by email or in person about a week before you want the letter to make sure “you have all the information you need, professor X!” which is code for “yo ya done?” but nicer and more collegey.
You can also ask them to email you when they send it in just so you know.
As interesting as you think you are, the recommender probably doesn’t know enough about your involvement to write your letter of the top of their head. There is some basic information you should send them in order for them to know what to tailor the letter to:
About the position/program/scholarship/etc.*
• About you*
*The information you provide should be correct, complete, up‐to‐date, and free from typos, misspellings, etc… Duh Sherlock.
A recommendation letter is a gift second only to giving someone your first born child and a chalice of blood. Be nice and send your recommender a thank you email or note (preferably note) for being nice and liking you enough to do this for you. Also, let them know whether you get the position or not!
Make Ron Swanson proud, and don’t be literal garbage. Be someone people want to write a recommendation letter for.