Students requesting reference-type letters from me
What I need from you to write you a letter of recommendation:
In return for my taking the
time to write these reference letters, I ask that you let me know what
happened - whether and where you get accepted.
your name and current address and phone number,
so I can reach you if I need additional information.
a form stating that you give me permission
to write a letter of recommendation. I require one form per letter
is the form; print it out, fill it out, and give it to me.
This is a pain in the butt for both of us, but the Bureaucrats-That-Be
command it, and I am no more than the dust under their feet.
a current transcript. It doesn't have to be
"official" or certified. It would help me if you would mark on it any classes
you took from me.
the forms I have to fill out. Be sure that
each form indicates the address I'm to send it to.
the deadline by which I must complete each
form. And please don't be afraid to call me to make sure I'm carrying out
suggested themes for me to emphasize in the
letter so as to best reinforce what you say in your application. Shall
I speak to your intelligence? Your honesty? Your negotiating skill?
your "personal statement", which although
not required would be helpful to me.
little anecdotes about your performance in
my classes that I can pass along in the letter. Did you raise good questions?
Did I once compliment you on your success in a class project? Such anecdotes
give a personal ring to the letter and set you apart from the dozens of
other applicants. But of course if you don't have such anecdotes, don't
worry about it.
Please do stay in touch as you progress through the
rest of your life.
About your seeing your letters: I have
no objection to your seeing what I write, and I will show you your letters
if you ask me, regardless of whether on your application you waive the
to see them. I do believe that when you state that you waive your right
to see them, their recipients give them more weight.
Keep in mind that whatever I may think
personally about you, I can only testify to what I have seen. Even if I
like you a great deal and think you're smart, if you have gotten successive
Cs in my courses, I am limited in my ability to praise you credibly. You
may want to ask a professor you don't feel as close to but nevertheless
got better grades with.
And on a final, humorous (yet perhaps
These are taken from resumes and cover
letters that were printed in the July 21, 1997 issue of Fortune Magazine.
The spelling is exactly the way it appeared in the magazine.
- "I demand a salary commiserate with my
- "I have lurnt Word Perfect 6.0 computor
and spreadsheet progroms."
- "Received a plague for Salesperson of the
- "Reason for leaving last job: maturity
- "Wholly responsible for two (2) failed
- "Failed bar exam with relatively high grades."
- "It's best for employers that I not work
- "Let's meet, so you can 'ooh' and 'aah'
over my experience."
- "You will want me to be Head Honcho in
- "Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever
- "I was working for my mom until she decided
- "Marital status: single. Unmarried. Unengaged.
Uninvolved. No commitments."
- "I have an excellent track record, although
I am not a horse."
- "I am loyal to my employer at all costs...
Please feel free to respond to my resume on my office voice mail."
- "I have become completely paranoid, trusting
completely no one and absolutely nothing."
- "My goal is to be a meteorologist. But
since I possess no training in meteorology, I suppose I should try stock
- "I procrastinate, especially when the task
- "As indicted, I have over five years of
- "Personal interests: donating blood. Fourteen
gallons so far."
- "Instrumental in ruining entire operation
for a Midwest chain store."
- "Note: Please don't misconstrue my 14 jobs
as 'job-hopping'. I have never quit a job."
- "Marital status: often. Children: various."
- "Reason for leaving last job: They insisted
that all employees get to work by 8:45 a.m. every morning. Could not
work under those conditions."
- "The company made me a scapegoat, just
like my three previous employers."
- "Finished eighth in my class of ten."
- "References: None. I've left a path of
destruction behind me."
[Courtesy of Roger Fossum]
Some sad but nevertheless humorous references:
- "Works well when under supervision and cornered like a rat in a
- "His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity."
- "When she opens her mouth, it is only to change feet."
- "He doesn't have ulcers, but he's a carrier."
- "If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he's the other
[From the October 2003 Reader's Digest, p.60]
And here are some unfortunately ambiguous phrases
one might find in job search letters, references, editorial reviews, etc.:
The following two items come via Michael Neblo:
"Mr. Johnson is a real human being."
"You will be lucky if you can get Ms. Smith
to work for you."
"No one would be a better candidate than Dr.
"I have received your letter of application
and wasted no time in reading it."
"I just can't say too much about this candidate."
"I can't recommend Lt. Smith highly enough."
"I have read your book and much like it."
[This last is from Moses Hadas, quoted in Robert Byrne,
The 1,911 Best
Things Anybody Ever Said.]
"Dr. Doe is very talented. I cannot recommend
him more highly."
"We would give Dr. Roe serious consideration
for a position here. I am sure he will do a fine job elsewhere."
"Dr. Smith's book fills a much-needed gap
in the literature." [Think about it.]
"Dr. Jones's book represents a subtraction
from the sum total of human knowledge."
And for a little more amusement [passed along by Sara Chilton, my sister]:
March 14, 1996
Chair - Search Committee
Department of Biochemistry
University of Towanda Health Sciences Center
Dear Professor Hombre,
Thank you for your letter of March 6. After careful consideration, I
regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me
an assistant professor position in your department.
This year I have been particularly fortunate in receiving an unusually
large number of rejection letters. With such a varied and promising field
of candidates it is impossible for me to accept all refusals. Despite the
University of Towanda's outstanding qualifications and previous experience
in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet my needs
at this time. Therefore, I will assume the position of assistant professor
in your department this May. I look forward to seeing you then.
Best of luck in rejecting future applicants.
Page URL: http://www.d.umn.edu/~schilton/Advisement/Referenceletter.html
Page Author: Stephen Chilton
Link to Home Page: www.d.umn.edu/~schilton/index.html
Last Modified: 2003-12-09
Mail suggestions and comments, especially re. typos and other errors,
Honor Roll of Proofreaders and Colleagues: www.d.umn.edu/~schilton/Honor.html
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