In my last post, I offered you three tips on how to go about making the whole letters-of-recommendation-process happen, including putting together an information packet for your letter writers. And sometimes (not always), you can even go the next step and…
4. Write it for Them
I’m sure you’ve seen those political ads on TV that end with a beaming senator announcing, “My name is Rob U. Blind, and I approve this message!” What the good senator really means is, “I’m too busy to write up my own campaign promises, but I’ve hired some very smart people to do it for me. I trust their judgment, so let’s have a cheer for making public urination illegal nationwide!”
Sometimes, if a potential recommender is either too busy or too daunted by the task of writing a letter, you may want to offer to write one for them to approve and sign. Okay, all you control freaks out there need to quit drooling, because these types of self-written endorsements should be used sparingly, and only with the explicit authorization of the person who is recommending you. Don’t suggest this idea to everyone you approach, because the implications can be insulting and the practice is frowned upon by scholarship committees (like they’d even know!), but always be aware that writing your own letter to be approved and signed by someone else IS an option.
My girls’ flag football coach devised this scheme without any prompting. When I asked him for a recommendation he said, “I’ll sign a recommendation letter for you, but you’ll need to help me write it.” He was the coolest guy ever, but super-lazy. Thanks to the coach’s abhorrence toward composition, I got a killer chance to write exactly what I wanted to write about myself, plus what he wanted to say about me, including how many touchdowns I scored as the running back/wide receiver. If you are going to compose a recommendation letter on for someone else, first interview the person and find out which of your good qualities the person admires most.
5. Remind, Don‘t Nag
When you negotiate the letter deal with your selection of recommenders, be sure to discuss deadlines and delivery dates. Ask to have the completed paperwork handed to you or mailed out well before the application is due, as this will allow time for unexpected set-backs. And, again, make things easy on these people! They are doing YOU a favor, so repay their kindness by taking on most of the responsibility involved. Do NOT say to your English teacher, “Please deliver the completed letter to my house at exactly 9 p.m. on the evening of the 27th. There is a storm warning for that night, so you may have to hitch your Rottweiler to a sled if you want to make it through the snow drifts.” Instead, try an approach that will result in a less hostile and sarcastic recommendation letter, like maybe, “I will come by your classroom before school on the morning of the 28th to pick up the letter, does that work for you?”
You don’t want any nasty surprises when it comes time to collect your letters, so it’s a good idea to remind your benefactors of your request at appropriate intervals. Avoid sounding like a nag by politely asking something like, “How‘s that recommendation letter coming along? Is there any more information I can give you that might help you out?” or “Remember that letter I asked you to write? Will you have it ready for me by the 28th, you think, or do you need a little bit more time?” If your people have forgotten all about the letter, which is very possible in these hectic times, they will definitely appreciate a casual reminder!