Letters of reference are one of the most important parts of job applications and applications for graduate school. They can highlight your strengths, explain your weaknesses, and give a sense of you as a living, breathing human being. In order to get the most from a letter of reference, experience has shown the following to be useful.
First, choose faculty whom you know, and who know you. Unless I know a student well, I urge her/him to find someone else to write a letter. If I don’t know you, it’s hard to write anything other than a lukewarm letter. In these competitive times, a lukewarm letter is taken to mean that the professor was not impressed by you, rather than what is really the case, namely that she didn’t know you well. If I suggest that you find someone else, please do not take this personally. It is my attempt to help you get the kind of strong letter which will get you the job or get you admitted to the program of your choice.
Second, give all faculty the tools we need to write a strong letter. At the Tech where some classes can be large, you should give a professor sufficient data for a detailed, thoughtful letter. Include the following:
your vita or resumé
your overall GPA (grade point average)
your GPA in Anthropology or Social Sciences
your personal statement (tailored to the particular job or graduate program)
the grade in the class/classes you took with me
copy of a paper you wrote in my class
copy of GREs (if you’re applying to graduate school)
your current snail-mail and email address, phone number and permanent address and phone number of someone who will always know how to reach you.
Third, most graduate schools prefer letters addressed to them directly. I do not write “to whom it may concern” letters, because these letters can be seen as reflecting a lack of interest and/or commitment on the faculty person’s part. Due to the large number of letters of reference I write, I must ask you to limit yourself to your top three choices for customized letters. You may ask me to send the same letter to multiple places – or use an online portfolio or dossier service like Interfolio (https://www.interfolio.com/)
In order to make my letters most effective, please give me the names, titles, and addresses of the relevant person to whom you want me to write. This is helpful because if I know the person, I might be able to point out how your interests intersect with their own. I can use what I know about that specific department to emphasize things I know about you which would make you a good match for them.
Fourth, make sure your packet of information is complete, readable, neatly-typed, and well-organized.
Fifth, please allow a minimum of 2 weeks after you submit your complete packet for me to write a letter. If the turnaround time is too short, I may have to decline your request. I don’t start writing reference letters until I have a student’s complete packet of information.
If it’s been more than a few years since you were my student and I have not had an on-going relationship with you, I will not be able to write you a letter of recommendation. I appreciate your understanding.
Finally, remember that professors like me who write letters for you care about what happens to you. Writing a letter takes a significant block of time, and in most cases, I never hear what happens to the student! Please show us the courtesy of telling us what happened to you— it helps keep us motivated.
**These guidelines are taken from Madonna Moss – my advisor at the UO.