Lau’s Rules for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

My good friend, Wendy Lau, posted this the other day:

Lau’s Rules for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation

April 24, 2012 at 11:39pm

As I sit here in the midst of recommendation letter writing for awards and honors for some deserving individuals, I thought it would be prudent for me to post “Lau’s Rules for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation” in the event that other individuals might wish to ask me (or anyone else) for a letter of recommendation in the future. Some of you may laugh at my list, but please rest assured that I am completely serious. 🙂

1) Please know me. And as a corollary, please make sure I know YOU.

I’m not too shy to admit that I am one hell of a recommendation letter writer. I will find all the very best things to say about you and I will say it with a whole lot of love. I will also say it using phenomenal vocabulary words, correct spelling, and accurate punctuation. However, no amount of stellar writing skills on my part will make the recommendation letter great if you don’t know who I am and if I don’t know who you are. Just because we know each other’s names or have met on occasion does not mean that I can, or will, write you an excellent letter of recommendation. When I write a Lau letter of recommendation, it’s because I wholeheartedly believe in you and your abilities and I truly want you to succeed. But in order for me to wholeheartedly believe in you and your abilities, I need to actually have some sort of relationship with you. If we don’t really know each other, you really don’t want me writing your letter of recommendation because it will be perfunctory and lack the “oomph!” you’re looking for to score that scholarship, that award, or that job.

2) Even if we know each other, help me out.

Sometimes, I may not be aware of just how amazingly fantastical and magical you are despite knowing you and loving you deeply. So help me out and help yourself out – give me something to work with. A resume is great, as is a short blurb about why you deserve to receive the Greatest Scholarship in All the Land or the Grand Poobah Award. Not only does this help me decide what types of things I want to highlight in the letter of recommendation, it also makes me feel all warm and fuzzy about you. And when I’m feeling warm and fuzzy, writing awesome things about you becomes that much easier.

3) Learn to sell yourself.

And no, NOT in that way. This is related to #2 above. What I mean by “learn to sell yourself” is that you should be able to articulate to me why you are the best candidate for this grad school or this particular job. If you can’t make me believe it, how am I supposed to make some random admissions counselor or employer believe it? Like I said, I’m a terrific recommendation letter writer, but I’m not a miracle worker.

4) Please tell me what the letter of recommendation is for, and what points you’d like me to address.

This may sound silly, but again, I’m completely serious. Just giving me the name of the school you are applying to or the name of the award is not enough. I need to know what the criteria are so that I can tailor your letter of recommendation to the requested specifications and help you gain a better chance at getting what you want. Also, let me know what characteristics or traits you believe you possess that might make you stand out above the crowd. I’m here to help you, but you’ve got to be invested in your own success, and that means covering every base.

5) Please do not ask me to write a letter of recommendation at the last minute or with insufficient notice.

If you do this, please expect that I will say no. Please also expect that I will be really irritated at your lack of consideration for me and my precious time. If I cave in and say yes, please be aware that the letter probably won’t be as amazing as if I had time to really think and ruminate about how absolutely wonderful you are.

If you are wondering, “Wendy, what do you consider ‘last minute’ or ‘insufficient notice?'” Well, I’m glad you asked. I typically like at least a two week notice period so that I have time to a) think about how absolutely wonderful you are; b) craft, re-craft, and finalize my work of art; and c) not write it right away. Since I am taking the time to write the letter to help you be a success, I appreciate the freedom of being able to decide when I will write it instead of being forced to write it immediately. Being pressed for time stresses me out, and results in a lesser product. And you don’t want a lesser product, do you? I didn’t think so. Two week notice being what it is, if you can give me longer than that, I will be ecstatic and will probably include in the letter of recommendation what a generous and considerate person you are.

6) Say Thank You and Pay it Forward.

Like everyone else, I appreciate being appreciated, so please don’t forget your manners. I don’t say this because I expect you to kiss the ground I walk on just because I wrote you a letter of recommendation (work of art that it is); as I indicated above, if I write you a letter of recommendation, it’s because I truly believe in you and your abilities and want you to succeed. However, it is important to make it a habit to be gracious and well mannered. If someone takes the time to do you the favor of writing a letter of recommendation, you can, and should, take the time to recognize their efforts and say thank you.

More important, I expect you to pay it forward. Remember the folks who helped you and took the time for you along your journey, and make sure that you do the same for someone else. It’s the right thing to do, and it will make you feel great. I promise.

This has been a public service announcement from the House of Lau. Good night, good luck, and God bless.

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