In previous posts, I explained that one method of degree acceleration is by obtaining college credit through workplace and life experience. More specifically, I also ran through the segments of a successful portfolio. One necessary item in a portfolio is the letter of recommendation, a positive statement that you request an employer or professor to compose on your behalf, touting your accomplishments, your character, and your abilities.
Due to the nature of the letter of recommendation, you are better advised to ask someone who knows you well to draft it, rather than someone who is well-known. According to Tufts University, letters of recommendation are most useful when they:
- Are written by people who know you well.
- Refer to specific experiences.
- Say something that is not obvious in other parts of your application.
- Say something relevant to your academic ability and potential success.
So that the letters can be as up-to-date and specific as possible, you may wish to provide your potential recommender a copy of your resume. Add a stamped, addressed envelope to make it easier for him, then follow up to make sure that the letter has actually been sent.
For its portfolio assessment, the University of Maine at Augusta requires “[t]hree letters of recommendation from work supervisors detailing your work duties and skills. These letters should be on official stationery from a supervisor delineating skills and competencies.” The letters should contain the following information:
- The length of time worked.
- Particular duties performed (include job description).
- The learning involved in performing these tasks.
- Level of performance.
- Typical requirements of the work experience.
- Verification of relevant training or workshop attendance.
U.C. San Diego adds a few points of protocol when asking for letters of recommendation:
- Request letters of recommendation in person whenever possible. Allow enough time at that meeting to discuss your request, your background and any questions the letter-writer might have.
- Be gracious in your request. Do not expect a letter as your right and also do not negate your right to ask.
- Ask if the potential writer can write a substantive positive letter in support of your application. Never press a prospective referee to submit a letter when he or she appears hesitant to fulfill your request.
- Allow at least two months between your request and the application deadline.
- Always thank your recommender in writing. A handwritten note is always appreciated.
Finally, the Alberta Learning Information Service adds the following general tips:
- Keep your references current.
- Maintaining and building your reference list is a good way to nurture your network.
- Share your success. Let your references know about recent projects and accomplishments.
- Stay in touch with your references. Call, e-mail or write your references from time to time, even after you’ve found a job.
- Each time you leave a position, ask for a letter of recommendation or a reference.
- Stay on good terms with past employers. Don’t burn your bridges.
- Keep a compliments file in your portfolio that includes positive performance reviews, letters of praise or thanks and testimonials from clients and customers.
And don’t forget to let your recommenders know how the process went.