Asking for a Letter of Recommendation - Continued

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Business School, Professional School, and Job Applicants:

When applying to business schools, professional schools, and jobs, you should ideally have a letter from your current employer. If you have not been at your current job for very long, you might instead ask a former employer who is familiar with your work and achievements. The same rule of thumb described above applies here: although you might feel tempted to request a letter from your company's CEO, refrain from doing so unless that CEO is indeed knowledgeable about your accomplishments. Your direct supervisors will generally be far more familiar with your work history and style, drafting a far more effective letter.


College and Graduate School Applicants:

Don't wait until the last minute. Instructors are invariably flooded with recommendation requests at the end of the semester (as well as near application deadlines), and you don't want your letter to end up just one more item in a long To Do list. Likewise, be sure to take into account foreseeable busy periods at work and common holidays such as end-of-the-year vacations.

If you approach your instructor a few months before the deadline, you will avoid putting him or her under undue pressure, and you give him/her plenty of time to ponder your performance. As the deadline approaches, you can always send the letter of recommendation writer a friendly reminder of the impending deadline. A quick email or phone call should do the trick -- but don't err on the side of pestering your letter writer.

A note on timing: it's never a bad idea to begin cultivating relationships with key instructors early on in your academic career. Participate in class discussions, visit your instructors during office hours, and show an active interest in their research. Catching your instructor's attention doesn't necessarily make you a sycophant, and standing out among your peers might prove very useful later on when you actually request letters of recommendation.

Whether you are in high school, college, or graduate school, don't wait until your last year to ask for letters. If you took a fascinating course your sophomore year and did particularly well in it, ask your professor for a letter at the end of the semester -- even if you don't plan on filling out applications until your senior year. Most professors (or rather, their secretaries and assistants) keep copies of letters filed or saved for future reference; if you show up two years hence requesting a recommendation, that professor will already have a written record of your accomplishments.


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