September 6, 2002

TO: Students requesting reference-type letters from me

FROM: Steve Chilton

SUBJECT: What I need from you to write you a letter of recommendation:

  1. your name and current address and phone number, so I can reach you if I need additional information.
  2. a form stating that you give me permission to write a letter of recommendation.  I require one form per letter requested.  Here 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.
  3. 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.
  4. the forms I have to fill out. Be sure that each form indicates the address I'm to send it to.
  5. 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 my responsibilities!
  6. 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?
  7. your "personal statement", which although not required would be helpful to me.
  8. 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.
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.

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 right 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 instructive) note:

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.

  1. "I demand a salary commiserate with my extensive experience."
  2. "I have lurnt Word Perfect 6.0 computor and spreadsheet progroms."
  3. "Received a plague for Salesperson of the Year."
  4. "Reason for leaving last job: maturity leave."
  5. "Wholly responsible for two (2) failed financial institutions."
  6. "Failed bar exam with relatively high grades."
  7. "It's best for employers that I not work with people."
  8. "Let's meet, so you can 'ooh' and 'aah' over my experience."
  9. "You will want me to be Head Honcho in no time."
  10. "Am a perfectionist and rarely if if ever forget details."
  11. "I was working for my mom until she decided to move."
  12. "Marital status: single. Unmarried. Unengaged. Uninvolved. No commitments."
  13. "I have an excellent track record, although I am not a horse."
  14. "I am loyal to my employer at all costs...  Please feel free to respond to my resume on my office voice mail."
  15. "I have become completely paranoid, trusting completely no one and absolutely nothing."
  16. "My goal is to be a meteorologist. But since I possess no training in meteorology, I suppose I should try stock brokerage."
  17. "I procrastinate, especially when the task is unpleasant."
  18. "As indicted, I have over five years of analyzing investments."
  19. "Personal interests: donating blood. Fourteen gallons so far."
  20. "Instrumental in ruining entire operation for a Midwest chain store."
  21. "Note: Please don't misconstrue my 14 jobs as 'job-hopping'. I have never quit a job."
  22. "Marital status: often. Children: various."
  23. "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."
  24. "The company made me a scapegoat, just like my three previous employers."
  25. "Finished eighth in my class of ten."
  26. "References: None. I've left a path of destruction behind me."

[Courtesy of Roger Fossum]

Some sad but nevertheless humorous references:

  1. "Works well when under supervision and cornered like a rat in a trap."
  2. "His men would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity."
  3. "When she opens her mouth, it is only to change feet."
  4. "He doesn't have ulcers, but he's a carrier."
  5. "If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he's the other one."

[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:

And for a little more amusement [passed along by Sara Chilton, my sister]:

March 14, 1996

Professor Hombre
Chair - Search Committee
Department of Biochemistry
University of Towanda Health Sciences Center
Towanda, IA

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.


Goddard Youville

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