Asking for Recommendations:
Pay attention to requirements
Ask people who are familiar with you
Give references plenty of notice
Make sure they'll write a good letter
Supply information about the award
Discuss application with references
Cultivate strong relationships
Offer assistance from Dr. Posler
Remind references of deadlines
Let them know the results
Thank them for their support
Requesting Letters of Reference
Asking for Recommendations:
Who to ask, how to ask, and what to expect.
- Pay close attention to the specific recommendation letter requirements of awards --not only how many but from whom.
- Whether it be a professor, advisor, or employer, ask people who are familiar with you and your work. "Big names" are of little use if they can only write a generic letter about you.
- For those competitions that ask for more than two letters, it is a good idea to select people whose letters together demonstrate a diverse range of your attributes.
For instance, one letter could comment on your research passion and
capabilities, another could emphasize your different leadership
skills, and another focus on your academics and how you demonstrate
scholarship in your field.
- Give them several months notice if possible (one month minimum) for the prestigious awards. If for a smaller award and it is due in less than a month, ask them IMMMEDIATELY, as soon as you decide you will pursue it. Waiting to ask, even if they have one for you on file, is inconsiderate.
- Ask them up front if they could write you a good letter. If they say no, or respond in a way that makes you feel uncertain about the strength of their support letter, gracefully accept that (and be grateful for their honesty) and ask somebody else.
- If they agree to write it, prepare a packet of concise info about the award and why you are a "perfect" candidate. This should include an updated resume, an unofficial transcript, a concise description of the award, and precisely why you believe you are an excellent candidate. You may have to schedule an appointment with them to discuss this. Any draft of your application essays would be extremely helpful when you have those ready. In the packet also include a stamped, addressed envelope(s) if they are required to send it directly to the organization. Also, if they are writing letters for more than one application, tell them exactly when it is due, and when you will pick it up if that's the case.
- If the person does not yet have a recommendation for you on file, schedule an appointment with them to discuss the application, your goals, everything that will help them write specifically about you. If it has been awhile since they had contact with you, it is helpful to them if you could provide an example of a significant event, learning experience, or something that had an impact on you during that period.
- If your time of application is a year or two in the future then keep in mind your relationships with faculty (or employers). When you get to know and like particular faculty members, share the fact that you might apply for these awards and perhaps they could write you a recommendation letter. You want faculty that can write specific things about you, so they need to be paying attention to you and your work.
- Do not assume because a person is a faculty member or a distinguished person in their field that they know how to write a good recommendation letter. Let them know that Assistant Vice President Posler will be happy to share samples of letters with them, if they would like to see a model.
- Make sure you follow up and remind them about the recommendation letters as the deadline approaches.
- Be kind enough to let them know the results, and thank them for their support.
This advice largely comes from Judy Zang, Scholarship Coordinator at the Fellowship Resource Advising Center of Carnegie Mellon University. Judy also serves as a Journal Editor for the National Association of Fellowship Advisors.
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