Letter of Recommendation

letter of recommendation
(Getty Images)

A letter of recommendation is a letter, memorandum, or online form in which a writer (usually a person in a supervisory role) evaluates the skills, work habits, and achievements of an individual applying for a job, for admission to graduate school, or for some other professional position. Also called a letter of reference.

When requesting a letter of recommendation (from a former professor or supervisor, for instance), you should (a) clearly identify the deadline for submitting the letter and provide adequate notice, and (b) supply your reference with specific information about the position you're applying for.

Many prospective employers and graduate schools now require that recommendations be submitted online, often in a prescribed format.


    Observations

    Clifford W. Eischen and Lynn A. Eischen: What goes into a letter of recommendation? Usually the employer will state the position that you held, length of employment, your responsibilities in that position, and the positive qualities and initiative that you displayed while working for that firm.

    Arthur Asa Berger: You will be asked to write letters for students who hope to attend graduate school or are applying for jobs. These letters should contain the following information.

    * What courses the student took with you
    * Whether the student was an assistant of some kind
    * How well the student performed in the courses
    * Information on the character and intellectual abilities of the student
    * Your predictions about the future success of the student

    You should avoid mentioning anything about the student's race, religion, ethnicity, age, or other such matters.

    Ramesh Deonaraine: An effective letter of reference should show what makes you unique, what will distinguish you from the many others who may have grades similar to yours, what will make you an asset for whatever program or job you are being recommended for. Vague, unsubstantiated statements in a recommendation saying that you are wonderful are likely to hinder, not help you.

    Douglas N. Walton: In the example [from H.P. Grice, "Logic and Conversation," 1975], a professor is writing a letter of reference for a student who is applying for a teaching job in philosophy. The professor writes in the letter only that the candidate's grasp of English is excellent and that his class attendance has been regular. How would someone who is thinking of hiring the candidate interpret such a letter? Grice commented (p. 71) that she would reason that since the student is this professor's pupil, he cannot be failing to furnish more information because he does not possess it. Therefore, he must be 'wishing to impart information which he is reluctant to write down. The conclusion drawn is that the professor, by conversational implicature, is communicating to the reader of the letter the conclusion that the candidate is no good at philosophy.

    Robert W. Bly: Intending to write a less-than-glowing letter and not informing the person who asked you of your intention is like an ambush. If you cannot write a good letter of recommendation, decline.

    Robert J. Thornton: [E]mployers should be able to write recommendations without fear of lawsuits. They need a way to convey honest--though perhaps unfavorable—information about a candidate for a job without the candidate being able to perceive it as such.

    To this end, I have designed The Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous RecommendationsL.I.A.R., for short. Two samples from the lexicon should illustrate the approach:

    To describe a candidate who is not very industrious: 'In my opinion, you will be very fortunate to get this person to work for you.'

    To describe a candidate who is certain to foul up any project: 'I am sure that whatever task he undertakes—no matter how small—he will be fired with enthusiasm.'

    Phrases like these allow an evaluator to offer a negative opinion of the candidate's personal qualities, work habits, or motivation, yet enable the candidate to believe that he or she has been praised highly.