When you're applying for a job as a director of student activities at a college or other educational institution, the employer may ask you to submit a letter of recommendation -- or several of them. While it's true that your resume and cover letter are the keys to showing who you are and what you've done, the recommendation letter is a crucial part of showing how you rate among your peers or supervisors. Take this portion of the application seriously and find someone who will write you a stellar letter.
Choose the Right Person
Perhaps the most important part of this process, as the job candidate, is choosing the right person. If you're applying for a director position, chances are you have other experience planning student activities, running on-campus clubs, teaching or coaching -- which means you've likely worked under other people who can speak to that experience. As a general rule, people who know your work habits are the best choices. While it could be great to ask the president of your past college to write your letter -- thinking it will carry more weight -- if that person didn't actually see you work, she's not going to provide the detail that your direct supervisor would. You'll also need to make sure you're choosing someone who is a good communicator. Asking a supervisor who's a notoriously poor writer to write your letter could make it seem unprofessional -- which will reflect poorly upon you. And since you're applying for a job in an academic environment, a poorly written letter looks particularly bad.
Review the Details
Once you've selected the person who will provide the right information, call the person or ask for an in-person meeting. Take her out for coffee, or meet her in her office at a time that's convenient for her. If it's been a while since you worked together, bring along your employment records or even a few photos of events you planned, teams you coached or projects you worked on to help jog her memory of what you did. Give her the information she needs to know, such as the job title, your past job titles and the address to which she'll send the letter.
Provide a Framework
It's also OK to give your letter-writer a list of your accomplishments so he'll have something concrete to go by when he goes back to his office to write the letter. However, try to avoid actually writing the letter for him. Sometimes, busy professionals will tell you to simply write the letter for them, and they'll sign it. While this is not illegal, it borders on unethical practice. If that happens, try to explain that you want the letter to appear authentic and that you're providing the list of your accomplishments to make the process easier. If that doesn't work, you may have to consider getting someone else to write your letter -- or take your chances on a letter that may seem canned or overly enthusiastic. In any case, thank the person for his time, and send him a handwritten thank-you note.
If You're Writing the Letter
If, on the other hand, you're the one writing the letter for a director of student activities candidate, hopefully the candidate has provided you the right information and also reminded you of her background and experience. It's up to you to decide whether to give the person a glowing review or a less-than-stellar one, but your letter should follow a basic format. In the first paragraph, explain how you know the candidate, remind the employer what the position is, and provide other details about how and when you worked together, such as the number of years you served together or your job title during that time. The second paragraph should start with something like "I highly recommend this person for the following reasons." Then relate a few details of how the person met your expectations, or tell a story or two about times the person really did well at her job. Sign the letter cordially and provide your full contact information near the bottom so the employer can contact you for further questions.
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