#8: Get a Great Recommendation Letter, Part 2

Apr 24, 2012

By ProFellow Founder, Dr. Vicki Johnson

In Part 1, I described how to break down the questions and how to identify and reach out to potential referees. Next, you’ll want to prepare a template letter for each one. The key is to make each template different. You’ll want each referee to highlight different aspects of your accomplishments, experiences and personality so that the fellowship organization has an opportunity to learn as many things about you as possible.

Example of instructions for recommendation letters from the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellowship application:

Two letters of reference. Each letter should address the accomplishments and standing of the candidate; the candidate’s interest and experience in peace and security issues; the candidate’s ability to communicate, both orally and in writing; the candidate’s maturity and judgment, and the candidate’s potential to make a significant contribution to peace and security issues. Signatures are preferred but not required.

Here’s how to start. In my last post, I took the example reference letter request above and broke it into 9 “questions”:

  1. accomplishments of the candidate
  2. standing of the candidate
  3. the candidate’s interest in peace and security issues
  4. the candidate’s experience in peace and security issues
  5. the candidate’s ability to communicate orally
  6. the candidate’s ability to communicate in writing
  7. the candidate’s maturity
  8. the candidate’s judgment
  9. the candidate’s potential to make a significant contribution to peace and security issues.

Referees need to address each of these questions. Therefore, think about the three types of referees you have  – e.g. academic, professional, extracurricular, etc. – and begin drafting some bullet points for each of the 9 questions. For example, question #1 is “accomplishments of the candidate”, so you’ll want develop bullet points on your  academic, professional and extracurricular accomplishments.  Try to think of as many specific examples as possible.

What you’ll want to provide your referee is the business letter template, including the addresses, date and saluation (see Part 1). The second document you provide the referee should include the full recommendation letter question and the break-out questions you created, with bullet points listed for each.  Again, each referee should be provided with different bullet points. With this, the referee can fill in the meat of the letter.

Also be sure to provide the referee any specific instructions about submitting the letter and the deadline. I recommend asking them to submit the letter no later than 3 days before the deadline.

Mark your calendar to remind yourself to give the referee a reminder one week before the deadline if they have not already submitted the letter by that date.

Next up: #9: Nailing the Individual and Group Interviews

Dr. Vicki Johnson Headshot

Dr. Vicki Johnson is Founder and CEO of ProFellow, the world’s leading online resource for professional and academic fellowships. She is a four-time fellow, top Ph.D. scholar, Fulbright recipient and an award-winning social entrepreneur. She is the Creator and Director of Fully Funded, an award-winning online course and mentorship program for graduate school applicants seeking to find and win full funding. 

© Victoria Johnson / ProFellow, LLC 2012, all rights reserved.