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Earning Strong Letters of Recommendation. R. Eric Landrum Department of Psychology Boise State University Rocky Mountain Psychological Association Phoenix, AZ April 14-16, 2005. Psychology Degrees Conferred in the United States, 2000-2001. Doctoral: 4,659 Men: 1,475 Women: 3,184 (68.3%)

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earning strong letters of recommendation

Earning Strong Letters of Recommendation

R. Eric Landrum

Department of Psychology

Boise State University

Rocky Mountain Psychological Association

Phoenix, AZ

April 14-16, 2005

psychology degrees conferred in the united states 2000 2001
Psychology Degrees Conferred in the United States, 2000-2001
  • Doctoral: 4,659
    • Men: 1,475
    • Women: 3,184 (68.3%)
  • Master’s: 15,196
    • Men: 3,615
    • Women: 11,581 (76.2%)
  • Bachelor’s: 73,534
    • Men: 16,572
    • Women: 56,962 (77.4%)
letters of recommendation
Letters of Recommendation
  • In many job application situations, you may be asked for one or more letters of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are a standard requirement graduate school applications.
what employers want top 20 qualities skills and abilities
Listening skills

Ability to work with others as part of a work team

Getting along with others

Desire and ability to learn

Willingness to learn new, important skills

Focus on customers/clients

Interpersonal relationship skills

Adaptability to changing situations

Ability to suggest solutions to problem

Problem solving skills

Ethical decision making

Critical thinking

Ability to see the big picture

Flexibility/shifting gears

Being able to identify problems

Working smarter to improve productivity

Timely decision making

Time management

Problem-definition skills


What Employers Want: Top 20 Qualities, Skills, and Abilities
graduate school selection criteria
Graduate School Selection Criteria
  • Primary: GPA, GRE, Letters of Recommendation
  • Secondary: (1) Research Leading to Publication, (2) Match/Fit with Program, (3) Research Leading to Conference Presentation, (4) Member of Selection Committee Showing Interest, (5) Clarity and Focus of Statement of Purpose
letters of recommendation1
Letters of Recommendation
  • When you ask a faculty member or other professional for a letter of recommendation, ask for a strong letter of recommendation.
  • Most faculty members would rather not write a letter than write a weak letter of recommendation.
who do you ask
Who Do You Ask?
  • If you are a student in one class with me, do the bare minimum work, never speak up in class, and never have a conversation with me outside of class or during office hours, then I will have a difficult time writing you a strong letter of recommendation.
who do you ask1
Who Do You Ask?
  • Those faculty who
    • have worked closely with you
    • have known you long enough to know you fairly well
    • are senior and well-known, if possible
    • have a positive opinion of you and your abilities
    • have a warm and supportive personal style
get to know the faculty
Get to Know the Faculty
  • Your professors and supervisors have direct influence over your letters of recommendation.
  • You are going to need to choose people who know your professional development, skills, and abilities and know them well. For a faculty member to get to know you this well, you are going to have to get involved outside of the classroom.
  • It takes more than being a good book student to get superb letters of recommendation. You have to interactpersonally with faculty members for them to recognize your talents.
information to provide
Information to Provide
  • Ask your references if they have any special requests before they begin writing your letter. Some of the items you might be asked to provide include:
    • Current copy of your academic transcript; usually an unofficial or “student” copy is fine.
    • Copy of your academic vita that lists your achievements and accomplishments in the discipline or a resume that summarizes your job history, skills, and abilities.
information to provide1
Information to Provide
  • Pre-addressed (stamped) envelope for each letter, whether it goes back to you (the student), or goes directly to the place of employment (or graduate school); does this envelope need to be signed on the back?
  • Any (completed) forms that the letter writer might be asked to submit with the letter.
information to provide2
Information to Provide
  • Cover sheet to the letter writer that includes contact information if your letter writer needs to reach you, when you will submit your application (you don’t want the letters to arrive before your application), and the deadline for each letter.
possible characteristics to describe in letters of recommendation
Academic achievement

Research ability, experience, or potential

Teaching potential or experience

Verbal skills, public speaking ability

Writing skills, level of writing proficiency

Industriousness, motivation, perseverance, energy level, drive

Quantitative abilities

Creativity, originality, imagination

Analytical ability

Leadership skills, level of respect accorded by others

Sociability, social skills, ability to get along with peers

Emotional stability, level of emotional adjustment

Judgment, ability to make sound decisions, ability to reason

Flexibility, adaptiveness

Ability to work independently

Knowledge of the field

General knowledge base

Desire to achieve, seriousness of purpose, initiative

Professionalism, maturity

Social awareness, level of concern for others

Physical grooming, personal appearance

Character, honesty, integrity, ethical and moral standards

Ability to work with others, teamwork potential, cooperativeness

Dependability, level of responsibility

Potential as a teacher

Potential as a practitioner

Possible Characteristics To Describe in Letters of Recommendation
do you get to see your letters
Do You Get to See Your Letters?
  • Faculty differ on their practices of releasing letters to students. For very good students with very good letters, faculty may be inclined to give the student a copy of the letter. Other faculty members never release letters to students, no matter how good the letter (or the student). A direct conversation with the faculty member can resolve any of these concerns.
  • Also, don’t assume that the lack of access means a bad letter—faculty may be following their own personal policy, or even a departmental or university policy.
letters of recommendation not
Letters of Recommendation (NOT)
  • As Appleby (1997) states, “you cannot expect your teachers and advisor to write you good letters of recommendation if you do not treat them with courtesy and respect” (p. 68).
how not to receive good letters of recommendation
How NOT to Receive Good Letters of Recommendation
  • Barely tolerate your instructors and classes
  • Be consistently late to class
  • Don’t ask questions of the instructor, even when asked
  • Don’t read assignments before class
  • Try to be the exception to the rule
  • Disagree with instructors in a condescending manner, especially in public
  • Label assignments you do not understand as boring, irrelevant, or busy work
  • Be the classroom lawyer
  • Never help plan or participate in departmental activities
  • Avoid using an instructor’s office hours
strategies to secure strong letters of recommendation
Deal effectively with a variety of people.

Display appropriate interpersonal skills.

Listen carefully and accurately.

Show initiative and persistence.

Exhibit effective time management.

Hold high ethical standards and expect the same of others.

Handle conflict successfully.

Speak articulately and persuasively.

Work productively as a member of a team.

Plan and carry out projects successfully.

Think logically and creatively.

Remain open-minded during controversies.

Identify and actualize personal potential.

Write clearly and precisely.

Adapt to organizational rules and procedures.

Comprehend and retain key points from written materials.

Gather and organize information from multiple sources.

Strategies to Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation
more information
More information
  • psych.boisestate.edu/EricLandrum.htm
  • elandru@boisestate.edu