Because a letter of recommendation is a very important component of any student’s application whether it is for admission to a university, application for a grant or a fellowship. As a senior professor at international universities, I have written LORs for the past 20 years and my students have been admitted to Law Schools and MBA programs at IVY league universities in US and UK. Thus, I know from experience that LORs matter and that when someone requests a LOR, their request is an expression of their trust and respect for my assessment. LORs are required at multiple stages in one’s career. It may be for an internship and subsequently for a job because a recruiter always feels more confident about hiring a candidate who has been referred by someone who has known them and worked with them.
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TIP: If you are a student or a job candidate, you may need to discuss some of these thoughts with your referee who will write the LOR for you. Ideally, he/ she should be open to suggestions. If you feel hesitant to openly discuss this with your referee, you can write an email requesting them to consider the 3-4 points that you feel will benefit your LOR.
How to Write a LOR
Whether you are a student or a job candidate, your LOR should follow these steps:
- Begin by providing a clear context of the referee’s position. How does the referee know the candidate? For how long? What is the employment history? Did you work together? Or was it a student-teacher interaction?
- Specific accomplishments of the candidate. Then describe some of the accomplishments which fit the job description or the study program that you are applying for. Any previous work experience or internships?
- Follow this with a paragraph about any special skills of the candidate. For example, any courses or certifications? These skills or certifications can be a good reason to suggest this candidate is an excellent fit for the job or the study program.
- After this, the LOR can introduce a personal tone about the candidate’s personality and values. Here’s how: Choose two incidents when the referee interacted with the candidate. What did those moments reveal about the abilities or personality of the candidate? How did she/he handle stress or pressure at work? Could they handle multiple tasks?
- Was there a setback or experience of failure/rejection in the candidate’s life? How did they overcome that? What does that show about the character and any special qualities that the candidate possesses?
Is it Important to Refer to Specific Life Experiences in a LOR?
Yes, personal life experiences show the human qualities of a candidate. Those traits are very useful in constructing a meaningful ‘portrait’ of a candidate. Through such specific information, recruiters can see to see how the applicant will fit in with the culture of the organization. And, when a referee provides this information, recruiters trust their judgement! Here are some important tips :
The LOR should be honest and accurate. If it exaggerates the merits of a candidate the recruiters can usually spot the lack of honesty. The letter of recommendation should show that the candidate is diverse—not only qualified (degrees and certifications) but also accomplished with diverse skills and a responsible human being.
The letter of recommendation should avoid bland phrases like ‘is a hard-working person or ‘is outstanding. Instead, refer to specific incidents which show qualities in the candidate.
Use phrases like:
- “Would be a good fit for this job”; “I’m sure ____ will be an asset to the team’ etc.
A final conclusive statement of the LOR can be:
- “I highly recommend ____ for this program and wish them all success”
Does a LOR Have a Format?
The LOR may be in the form of a letter. Most of the letters of recommendation I have written have been on my university’s official letterhead.
- The subject line is: “ Letter of Recommendation for …..”
- Title & Address of where the letter is being submitted
- The student/employee’s full name is in bold.
- Some universities will accept a digital signature.
- Below the signature of the referee should be their professional title and the institution they belong to.
ALERT 1: Ideally, the LOR should refer to the company or university that the candidate is applying to.A general LOR is not as effective. So make sure there is a reference to that university/ company. For each application, a slight change can be made to the body of the LOR. This makes it personalized and more impactful.
ALERT 2: Many of the premier IVY League universities have an online Recommendation Form which a referee has to fill online. These have very specific questions and need very careful thinking while responding to the questions about the candidate.
How is a LOR Submitted?
Most universities or companies want the letter of recommendation to be submitted directly by the referee. They also expect confidentiality and some universities will ask a candidate to ‘waive’ their right to see the letter of recommendation. This is to ensure that the referee can write honestly about the candidate. Such confidentiality should be respected. If you are a candidate, choose your referee carefully! It may be a professor, supervisor, former or current employer. But they should be supportive and willing to spend a little time reflecting on your accomplishments and your qualities because they are in fact writing your ‘word-portrait’ for the next stage of your career. We will be back next Friday with another amazing blog from Dr Maina Chawla Singh. Till then, if you have any questions or suggestions, just drop us a comment and we will get back to you. Want to study abroad? Our Leverage Edu experts are ready to assist you in narrowing down the best course and university options according to your interests and preferences.