As the first one awake in my house this morning, I used some quiet time to catch up on emails and complete some recommendation letter requests that were hanging out in my email for a few days. This task always takes me back to my student days, and can also be a challenging exercise to say just the right thing amount a “recommendee” but not slather on the B.S. too thick. Since it was fresh in my mind, I shared some thoughts on asking for recommendation letters on the Trombone Pedagogy Facebook forum, and was asked to make it available for sharing outside of that membership. Since it has been some time since I blogged in earnest, let’s just count this as catching up! This is one of those little things that can make a big difference in creating opportunities — and a network — for yourself. It is also a lesson on how to present yourself with sincerity and professionalism. As always, this isn’t the “end all, be all” on this topic but worth reminding ourselves – and our students – of proper etiquette and making the best possible impression. Enjoy!!
As the time for recommendation letter requests is upon us — whether for college, grad school, summer festivals, etc — it is a terrific opportunity for students to remember (and teachers to remind) that proper etiquette when requesting a recommendation is not to be overlooked. HOW you ask says a lot about you, and can be the deciding factor on if the recommender agrees to write the letter or not — or worse, agrees to write it and forgets by accident or otherwise!! Now that seemingly everything is done through a web portal, it couldn’t be easier for students to get this right. Gone are the days of providing a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope, folks) and expecting it to be typed, printed, signed, and mailed. So, all the more reason to get your request right!
Here are a couple tips from personal experience on both sides:
1) Ask in person, or over the phone, or with a formal email. Texts are too casual and show that you don’t respect and value the recommenders time. Don’t have someone else (parent, teacher, etc) ask on your behalf. Put on your big person pants and ask for what you want directly. And stroke the ego…a little bit.
2) Ask early, and remind kindly. Don’t wait until a few days before the deadline, and also don’t be afraid to followup on your request with a kind reminder.
3) Ask for a recommendation from someone who KNOWS you or your playing well, rather than the big name you played for once. They may agree to do it, but it will be very general and vague. The reader can see through all that B.S. The longer your track record with someone, the better they can speak to your worth ethic, abilities, and character.
4) Tell the recommender what the recommendation is for and your goal for being admitted into whatever the program may be. The more specific details you have, the more specific the letter can be written to support YOU. Having some context gives the recommender direction in how to right the recommendation. A blanket request makes their job harder and will result in a vague, stock letter.
5) If you haven’t worked with the person from which you are requesting in a little while, take time in your request to remind them of your relationship, and perhaps a nugget of wisdom you learned from them. Re-establish a connection so that they feel compelled to write on your behalf.
6) Be prepared for a ‘NO’. Not everyone will feel compelled to write a recommendation for you. They may simply not have time, or feel that they do not know you well enough. Refer back to #3.
7) Be ready for acrobatics. I once had a teacher request that I come ‘audition’ for a recommendation, as they hadn’t heard me play in quite some time. At first, I was put-off, but realized that this was a good opportunity for me and that they were protecting their integrity.
8) Be prepared for the humbling act of writing your own recommendation for the recommender to sign. Unless you have a massive ego, this is a daunting task!
9) Say THANK YOU!!! Follow up a completed recommendation with a genuine “Thank you”, again, in the form of an email, phone call, or in person. If you care to go the extra mile, a small token of appreciation (bottle of wine, perhaps?) also makes it hard to forget you, and might make someone more amenable to writing for you in the future. Remember, they are putting their credibility and integrity on the line for YOU. Showing that it is appreciated and not taken for granted goes a loooooooong way.