If you haven’t already found a post-graduate or summer opportunity, when you do, that position will undoubtedly ask for a letter of recommendation or references.
The fact of this can either seem like a relief (because that is one less component you have to write yourself!), or an additional stressor . . . particularly if you don’t have any prospective good-words-on-your-behalf lined up.
Either way, this doesn’t have to be a cause of stress if you plan ahead. Letters of recommendation are totally doable . . . and references are even easier!
Time is a Gift. Give it to the People you Want to Speak on Your Behalf.
If the application you are filling out requests either a letter of recommendation or list of references, you should start looking for recommenders early. Gina T’ai of the Theater Dance and Media Studies department recommends you reach out to the person you’ve chosen to write your letter “a minimum of two weeks, but ideally three to four weeks out.” It’s a good idea to give yourself as much time as possible, as sometimes your person may not be able to write your letter.
Once the faculty member agrees, make sure that you immediately provide an updated resume, transcript, instructions on submitting the application, and an explanation of your interest in this position.
Why Faculty Decline
There are times when faculty don’t feel they have the resources to write a letter:
“I let people know if I don’t know them well enough or can’t write a good letter,” explains Yaffa Grossman. “If there is something unflattering I would need to say, such as ‘missed many class meetings,’ or ‘didn’t successfully complete assignments,’ I tell the student what I would write.”
(From time constraints to travel plans and other pressing obligations, there are many other factors that may prevent someone from writing a letter of recommendation for you, so don’t immediately freak out if you get turned down!)
Would you Provide a Reference?
Asking someone to be a reference is a much less time consuming process. You still have to ask your person if they would be willing to be your reference, and fill them in on the position you’re applying for.
Avoid these Faux-Pas at All Costs
While serving as a reference doesn’t take as much reflection or preparation for a faculty member, you should provide the same courtesies to teachers who are serving in either capacity. As Yaffa notes,
“I require the same materials whether students […] want letters of reference or to list me as a reference. In other words, I never want to be surprised by a phone call about someone who has listed me but did not let me know about the listing.”
Gina feels similarly:
“If I am being listed as a reference, I want to see every position a student has applied for that lists me. If I get a call for a job I don’t know about, it doesn’t sound good to the potential employer.
I also don’t need four weeks notice for that.”
Basically, if you have to ask for recommendations or references, follow these rules:
- give your potential reference or recommender more than enough time
- give more than enough information
- communicate with them at the onset of your application process and get their consent.
In the wake of the application process . . .whether or not you’ve got the job, be sure to send a note of gratitude to each and every person who was willing to give you a good word.