Recommendation letters are typically used to gain entry to a graduate program, a particular college, or to give a slight advantage to a job applicant. Most often a letter of recommendation is written by a professor, a mentor, or a particularly experienced person; however, in certain rare cases a student or applicant might be asked to write their own letter. This is a very specific scenario in which the chosen individual is unable to write it themselves. This could be because they are too busy, they’re currently on vacation, or they’d prefer that you at least write up an initial draft for them to work off of. Believe it or not, this can actually work to your advantage, as no one knows you, your achievements and your skills quite as well as you do.
Structuring Your Letter of Recommendation
Your introduction paragraph should also serve as a sort of thesis statement in which you explain why you would be an excellent candidate for the program, school or job you’re applying for. Start with a simple statement such as “I am proud to recommend [insert your name] for [program/school/business name]” Your intro should also include how long the recommender has known you and their relation to you, along with their title and a list of their responsibilities.
Next, briefly mention up to three examples of times when you (the subject of the recommendation letter) exhibited the qualities of a top performer. These examples should be expanded upon in the body paragraphs of your recommendation letter. If you have two examples, you should have two body paragraphs; three examples, three paragraphs, and so on. For the conclusion of the letter shift your focus onto some of the subject’s (your) personality traits, listing positive attributes such as confidence, the ability to work well with others, or strong communication skills, just to name a few. The conclusion is also a good opportunity to express your (the recommender’s) excitement in endorsing the candidate (you).
When it comes to the length of your recommendation letter, try to keep it around four to five paragraphs; one for your introduction, two or three body paragraphs, and the final paragraph for your conclusion. Always keep in mind that you’re writing in the voice of the person who will be signing your recommendation letter, so be sure to refer to yourself in the third person.
Things to Include
For your body paragraphs, you want to do your best to illustrate your accomplishments and strengths, especially ones that are relevant to the program, school or job you are applying for. Also, it’s best to provide examples in which the signer of your letter (the recommender) was involved or present. This will help make your recommendation letter more authentic, as the signer would be able to speak to such examples. Let’s say you received an A+ on a particularly difficult research paper, or your participation was above-average in the recommender’s class—these are excellent examples to include in your letter.
If your recommendation letter is being sent along with a separate application, make sure that the examples you provide in your letter are different from any that you might have included on your application. This will give you the opportunity to share even more examples of your accomplishments, with your letter of recommendation affording you the ability to go further in depth. Whenever possible, include quantifiable examples such as performing beyond a particular quota, or being ranked at the top of your class.
It’s incredibly important to maintain a positive and professional tone throughout your letter. Remember, you’re writing as if you’re the signer, so do your best to convey their personality and their feelings about you and your performance. In addition to this, always be honest. Even slightly embellishing on your achievements is a big no-no. You want to be as objective as possible, as you’re writing from the perspective of the signer of the letter.
Double and Triple Check Your Work
Silly spelling and grammar mistakes are a surefire way to ruin all that hard work you just put in to writing your recommendation letter, so be sure to carefully read and re-read it multiple times. A good strategy for editing your own work is to step away from it for a while, then return to edit it later. Personally, I like to sleep on anything that I have to edit so that when I come back to it, I’m well-rested and I feel like I’ve been away from the work long enough to be able to spot mistakes more easily.
As we said earlier, make sure that you’re always referring to yourself in the third person. It can be particularly easy to make a mistake here, as more times than not, we’re writing from our own perspective. When reviewing your body paragraphs, take the time to make sure you’re providing enough detail about your accomplishments while also demonstrating their relevance to the program, school or job you’re applying for. If you’re being vague or you find that you’re relying too heavily on buzzwords or other clichés, dial it back a bit; your accomplishments will speak for themselves.
A good recommendation letter can greatly increase your chances of getting into the school of your choice, a graduate or PhD program, and can even help you land a position at that awesome company you’ve been eyeballing. In the event you find yourself having to write your own recommendation letter, take advantage of the opportunity and share all your best accomplishments. Along with these tips, you should be able to craft a high-quality letter, worthy of your recommender’s signature.
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