Tips for Faculty When Writing a Letter of Recommendation

April 11, 2023 Watermark Insights

Tips for Faculty When Writing a Letter of Recommendation

Writing a recommendation letter is an excellent way to show your appreciation for hard-working students and help them gain more experience in their field. These letters can significantly impact a student's ability to enter a graduate program or obtain a job. 

Students and postdocs typically choose instructors and faculty members who they trust to accurately represent their strengths both as a student and as a person. Check out these tips to crafting an outstanding letter of recommendation for your students. 

What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

A professional letter of recommendation is a formal document that details a person's qualifications, skills, and suitability for a position of employment or at an academic program. Typically these letters will come from teachers, colleagues, mentors, previous employers, or clients. However, college and university students and postdoc researchers often have the most experience with their professors and other institutional members. They feel comfortable asking these professionals to speak on their behalf. 

Recommendation letters verify the experiences a person is detailing to their potential place of employment or graduate school boards. These letters attest to the person's work ethic, personality, and capabilities. Students and postdocs need someone they can trust to detail a personal note that will stand out to employers or administrators. A letter of recommendation may not always be necessary for a position, but it can make an applicant become a more competitive candidate. 

Why Is a Letter of Recommendation Important?

A quality recommendation letter can help a student's or postdoc's application look unique. When you write a worthwhile letter detailing the exceptional knowledge, expertise, and experience the applicant can bring, you demonstrate why they are more impressive than other candidates. 

These letters detail the applicant's desire to develop in the field and highlight their strengths or justify their weaknesses. Among many candidates who share similar skills and experiences, the recommendation letter is an opportunity to express unique views and opinions about the individual. 

A professor's recommendation letter for a student is an excellent way to show your support and can also aid in the graduate school application process. If the admissions board for the student's desired program recognizes the instructor's name or your institution as reputable, respectable and trustworthy, the student may stand out against others. 

With your recommendation, they can advance in the admissions process, knowing they're admitting a student who will add value to their institution. Alternatively, receiving a letter from an instructor in the field the applicant wishes to pursue as a career can show employers that they have valuable experience and knowledge to help them succeed. 

5 Tips for Faculty When Writing a Recommendation Letter

Knowing how to write a recommendation letter for a student can help them stand out against other candidates and further their careers. Crafting a personal note highlighting their strengths is an excellent way to show their character and why they would be a great fit for the position they're applying for. 

5 Tips for Faculty When Writing a Recommendation Letter

However, it would help if you kept a few things in mind while crafting your letter. Whether you're writing a letter of recommendation for graduate school or want to help your students with their employment search, these tips can help 

1. Do Your Research

Before beginning a student recommendation letter, research the position and company the student is applying for. Searching the institution's department and graduation requirements will be a great starting point if they're looking for graduate school. 

Ask the student to describe the position, provide a copy of their resume and list any skills or experiences they would like you to highlight. This will be an excellent starting point and establish a foundation for your letter. You can then focus on showing their strengths and why they would be exceptional new team members or students. 

2. Use Specific Examples

A recommendation letter should be personal. Put yourself in the reader's shoes, imagine what information they want and be as specific as possible. If you know the specifics of the position, you can recount your experiences with the student that detail their abilities to lead in that role. Although there can be some overlap, the readers will typically want to see information that isn't already in the student's other documents.

3. Remain Positive

The examples you use to highlight your student should reflect positive aspects of their academic or professional abilities. Your honest enthusiasm can aid in their acceptance or hire, and if you can, try to use a superlative comparison between the student and others you have experience with. 

For example, saying the student has demonstrated the most intense desire to learn more about the field in the class, illustrating their ability to take leadership, or detailing them as one of the best students you've had the pleasure of working with can help make them more memorable than the other applicants. 

4. Keep It Concise

Although you want to be personal, your letter must be formal and concise. Using standard font text and sizes, like 12-point Times New Roman or Arial, will likely be the best choice. If possible, include your institution's letterhead at the top. Using recommendation letter templates can ensure you follow the proper format and appear professional. 

The admissions board or employer you're writing to may receive hundreds, if not thousands, of recommendation letters. Keeping your letter concise will help avoid them skimming or getting bored. As a rule of thumb, aim to have a letter around one page in length. If you need more space, try not to exceed two pages. 

5. Don't Be Afraid to Say No

One of the most important things to remember before writing a recommendation letter is that you can say no. If you feel you have bad experiences with the student and won't be able to provide the glowing recommendation they need, you can deny their request. 

Crafting a generic letter might impede the student's acceptance or hire. Although you likely want to help each of your students, declining is perfectly acceptable. Explain your reasons for declining and politely point them to an instructor or faculty member who can provide a more accurate reflection. 

Additional Tips for Drafting an Outstanding Recommendation Letter for Faculty Applicants

The content of a recommendation letter for master's and doctorate students and postdoc researchers seeking faculty appointments may differ slightly because of the unique experience required. The following points should guide you in drafting a recommendation letter that sets the applicant apart: 

1. Qualifications

Dedicate a large portion of the applicant’s faculty letter of recommendation to their qualifications and match the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses with the role. It helps to clarify how the applicant’s qualifications align with what the faculty is looking for. Connecting the dots help the selection committee paint a clear picture of what the applicant can offer. The section may detail the applicant’s management skills, teaching effectiveness, awards, social contributions, and volunteer services. 

2. Academic Excellence

Academic excellence is crucial for higher education institutions because faculty roles typically involve students engaged in advanced learning. When drafting a recommendation letter, share the applicant’s records of scholarly preeminence, including their commitment to teaching and dedication to helping students succeed. Emphasize their research skills and practices, curriculum and course design, mentoring, and collegial collaboration. 

3. Awards & Recognition

Awards and recognition complement the applicant’s academic prowess. They affirm their capabilities and emphasize specific accolades for the search committee. These could include educational, teaching, professional, or community honors. You may also speak to the characteristics, qualities, and transferable skills the applicant demonstrated to earn that recognition.

4. Academic & Professional Experience

When preparing a draft for a letter of recommendation, highlight the applicant’s abilities, knowledge, and skills in a professional role, which may or may not be academic. Emphasize the applicant’s areas of interest and their natural inclination. While these two attributes are interrelated, they are not mutually exclusive. An applicant could be passionate about one field but possess a natural skill or intuition to perform well in another. 

It also helps to remember that faculty are subject matter experts, which requires active exploration, expansion, and deepening of knowledge. This makes it crucial to demonstrate the applicant’s professional and educational growth. Speak to the strides made in the field and connect them to the role. This lets the recruiter know how the applicant best fits into the position. 

5. Volunteering & Service

Since the culture in most higher education institutions is based on a sense of community, department and college contributions and community services are essential for faculty. Volunteering shows added competencies beyond purely administrative work. That's one of the reasons faculty members commit time, energy, and resources to accomplish the institution’s missions. 

In addition to academic excellence and professional experience, highlight the applicant's services to various departments and communities and their willingness to participate in institutional shared governance. It helps to include specific examples highlighting their effectiveness and success. 

What to Avoid When Drafting Letters of Recommendation

There are four things you should stay away from when drafting recommendation letters:

  • General language: Make the recommendation letter as specific as possible. Avoid overly broad descriptions and offer examples to paint a clearer picture.
  • Basic expectations: Avoid focusing on basic expectations such as punctuality and ability to complete tasks. Highlight exceptional skills that position the applicant above their peers.
  • Over-emphasizing your relationship: While highlighting a good relationship with the applicant is essential, it helps to do that moderately. You want to avoid creating an impression of bias or favoritism. Writing two or three sentences about how you know the student may be enough.
  • Over-praise: Be modest with the accolades. Specific, relevant descriptions of the applicant's competencies will likely have a greater impact than effusive praise.

Ensure Student & Postdoc Success With Watermark Insights

Watermark can help prepare your students for graduate programs, careers, and internships. We've been crafting higher education solutions for over 20 years, and our innovative solutions have made real impact on many colleges and universities. With Watermark Curriculum Strategy, you can build and share a curriculum that empowers student success and enables them to build strong resumes and worthwhile experiences. Our software allows you to shape the student experience and make them stand out for prospects. 

With our solution, you can seamlessly track student records and surface the information you need to write a worthwhile recommendation letter. Empower your students and postdocs — request a demo of Watermark Curriculum Strategy today.

Ensure Student & Postdoc Success With Watermark Insights

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