Have you been asked to give a letter of recommendation and you are not sure where to start? Are you an academic who is juggling with lots of responsibilities? In the below article, I have collected some guidance on how to create recommendations effectively.
Find out about the requirements
Before starting to draft your letter, do take some time to find out about the requirements. Do you need to send your letter via e-mail or submit it via an electronic platform? Did they identify an expected word count for the letter? Are there any preset questions to answer? Of course, online safety is essential. If you have any doubts regarding the online links you need to use or the identity of the organisation asking for the document, it is best to double-check before clicking on links or submitting any information.
Make it bespoke
Do avoid using the same general template for your recommendations. Instead, do tailor each letter according to the candidate you are recommending. If you have never been a referee before, you may find that the first few recommendations take slightly more time. However, the more recommendations you write, the quicker you will become writing them. As an academic, you may need to refer a colleague who is applying for a new job or a volunteering opportunity. Students could approach you and ask you to be their referee when applying for jobs or further academic studies. Every time you create a recommendation, save the document in a dedicated electronic folder. This can be very helpful in the event that you are contacted at a later stage for further information. At times, recruiting companies may call up referees to verify them. You could save lots of time by having your recommendations saved in an organised approach.
Include the right information
It is essential that all the information you include in your letter is factually correct. If you are not sure about any details e.g. which year you taught the student or which course they have attended, please do take the time to look up the information prior to drafting your letter.
Make sure that you include only relevant details. Do exclude any information on disability, pregnancy, health conditions, race, the candidate’s personal life etc. Do make sure that you use specific, clear and coherent language, free of jargons. It is better to write a factual and concise recommendation as opposed to a vague, generalised, and lengthy letter. Do proofread the document so that it is free of any spelling, grammatical or punctuation mistakes.
Structure it carefully
Your recommendation needs to be structured as any other formal letter you would write. Do ensure that you include your details such as your full name, job title, e-mail address and phone number. It is best not to provide your personal address. Instead, you can use the address of the university where you work. You could follow the below structure:
Top of the document: Date, recipient’s name and address.
Introduction: Start with a brief introduction such as ‘I am delighted to recommend XXXX (candidate’s name).’
Main body: Followed by the main body of the text, giving an overview of the candidates’ skills. If you can, do try to offer specific examples of the candidate’s skills or abilities.
Summary: I am confident that XXXX will be a good fit for the position…
Closing statement: Do indicate that you are happy to be contacted if further queries come up. ‘Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need any further information regarding the above.’
Date and your signature: Do not forget to date and sign the letter.
Make it reader-friendly
It is important that you use the correct layout for your letter. Generally speaking, you might want to keep the letter to a maximum of one page. Do use some traditional and easily readable fonts such as Arial, Verdana, or Calibri. The font size should be around 12 points. Do use single-spaced lining and make sure that you use paragraphs. As recruiters go through a large number of letters, it is essential that you break up the text in the main body of the document to make it as reader-friendly as possible.
Focus on their skills
You might find it helpful to give feedback on some of these skills: critical thinking, independence and teamwork, communication skills, and organisation. Put yourself in the shoes of the organisation that is asking for the recommendation. What would they need to know? What information would be most relevant to them?
Use a positive tone
Your writing should reflect enthusiasm for the candidate’s abilities. Do accurately reflect on their skills and avoid exaggerating. If you have never written a recommendation letter before and you are not sure if you are doing it right, you could always ask a trusted colleague to proofread it prior to submitting it.
Most academics balance a wide range of professional commitments on a daily basis. You may be preparing to travel to conferences, give lectures at the university, complete markings, and write research papers. You may find yourself putting off writing references and being chased for these. You could find it helpful to use the Pomodoro technique which is a time management method based on creating 25-minute periods of work, followed by 5 minutes of rest. Many academics would agree that getting started is often the most challenging part of completing a task. However, once you get into the flow, you often feel less resistance and you start accomplishing things. If you struggle to get started with tasks and tend to procrastinate, you may find the Pomodoro technique useful.
You can say ‘no’
At times, you may not have the time to submit a well-crafted recommendation by the given deadline dates. You might feel that you do not know the candidate sufficiently to comment on their suitability. Other times, you may not have had a positive experience, and you are not able to provide a glowing recommendation. You can certainly say ‘no’ if you feel that you are not the right person to be the referee.