Feb 16, 2010

Back up your resume with a Letter of Recommendation

by Camille Smith

Spring semester is the beginning of the end for senior students at Liberty. Packed full of internships and capstone classes, the last semester of a college career is often the busiest. This is why the Career Center is urging seniors to get started and beat the graduation rush.

Director of the Career Centers Carrie Barnhouse believes that the Career Center is training “Champions at Work.” Barnhouse advises students that it is never too early to start the process of preparing for graduation, especially when it comes to collecting letters of recommendation for their career portfolio.

“The important part is networking,” Barnhouse said. “When you leave a job or internship, ask for a letter of recommendation and ensure you’re able to reproduce it for multiple reasons in the future.”

Letters of recommendation are important to potential employers and for graduate school admission departments because they will back up a resume. Many graduate schools require recommendation letters as part of the application process.

“(Letters of recommendation) provide extra evidence beyond an interview that you have done what you say you have done and to what degree,” Barnhouse said. “As an evaluation of your performance, skills or abilities, they can help an employer get a better understanding of who you are and what you can do.”

Students are advised to seek the “three P’s” when considering who can provide a letter of recommendation, according to the Career Center: professional, personal and professor.

“You want someone who’s been a supervisor or manager of you in the work place,” Barnhouse said. “You can offer a personal reference that speaks to your character, and at this stage of life, a professor that you’ve trained under and gotten to know well could also serve as a great reference.”

VCAR Professor Ronald Sumner has written many letters of recommendation for his students.

“Usually the people that ask me to write letters of recommendation are better students,” Sumner said.

Preparation for obtaining a letter of recommendation begins long before senior year, according to Sumner. A student’s work and performance is taken into consideration when writing the letter.

“I think that occasionally I get the student who wants me to write a letter of recommendation and I have to speak in generalities such that the astute reader would understand that I’m not really recommending,” Sumner said. “More often than not, students understand how a professor will evaluate them and that tends to make them choose whom they ask to write the letter.”

There are rules of etiquette for obtaining letters of recommendation, according to Barnhouse. In order to not come across as unprofessional, a student should take the writer’s time into consideration.

“Always ask if the person feels comfortable serving as a reference in writing a letter of recommendation,” Barnhouse said. “Allow the person plenty of time.”

The Career Center also urges students to make sure the purpose of the letter is clear. The Career Center, located on the first floor of DeMoss, offers walk-in hours for students. Services provided include career counseling, resume help, internship questions and information on the Washington semester. Walk-in hours are Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Contact Camille Smith at

10 tips for a great recommendation letter
How to get a good recommendation letter

  1. Ask people who think highly of you, and of whom you think highly.
  2. Ask professors with whom you have had at least two classes.
  3. Respect the professor’s time (or lack of time).
  4. Asking for a recommendation letter is asking for a favor. Do not assume the professor will agree.
  5. Give the professor at least two weeks to write the letter.
  6. Do not ask in front of other people.
  7. Give specifics on what you need as to whom and where the letter should be sent. Do not send the professor to a Web site for more information.
  8. Remember letters for scholarships are different than letters for a job, so specify what you need.
  9. Always send a thank you note and let the professor know the outcome of the recommendation.
  10. Do not ask for a general letter for your portfolio.

Adopted from an article published by Public Relations Student Society of America.

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