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Writing your own letter of recommendation
March 10, 2008 8:04 PM   Subscribe

How do you write a letter for recommendation for yourself?

My wife is applying for a job that has asked for three professional letters of recommendation. One of her three recommenders has asked my wife to draft the letter herself so that the recommender can go over it, make minor changes, and sign off on it.

Is there any good (ethical, not awkward) way to go about this? It seems like she will need to write it from her boss' perspective and voice, which toes the line of dishonesty. To go the other route and merely be factually descriptive without much praise will make it sound lackluster.

What have any mefites done in similar situations?
posted by ztdavis to Work & Money (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Does she have any prior evaluations from her boss? My doctoral advisor has asked me to do something similar on occasion, and I usually started by working from other things she'd written about me. I also tried to put myself in her shoes (as you've suggested) and to be as fair as possible (both to her and to me). It was just as difficult (if not more so) to write about my strengths than about weaknesses.

I disliked having to draft a letter for her, but realized that she had asked because she was busy and had confidence that I could write something appropriate for her to work from. Thinking about it that way might help your wife be more comfortable with doing this. Also, once I got into writing the thing (ie, got mentally into her voice/perspective), I found that it wasn't nearly as bad as I'd expected. Knowing she would make changes as she saw fit also helped me feel better about the whole thing.
posted by splendid animal at 8:10 PM on March 10, 2008

I've always tried to be as factual as possible. If you frame the facts in the right way, enthusiasm and "gosh, darn, that Ms. Ztdavis is wonderful" will come out...without you needing to resort to anything that could be disputed by the recommender (i.e. if you go overboard with praise).
posted by acoutu at 8:20 PM on March 10, 2008

When my previous employer asked me to do just this, I gave him a one-page sheet with bullet points on it. Sort of an updated resume reflecting what I felt I'd done on the job. He used most of it and turned it into english, and then asked me to look it over for grammar. That way I didn't have to worry about assuming his voice. Might this be a possibility?

Oh, also, the recommender might be unsure of what SORT of letter you need and what your general theme is. If you start off the paper with a topic sentence, eg I'm looking to join the underwater basket weaving industry and hoped you could speak to my experience as a weaver, it might help.
posted by Happydaz at 9:57 PM on March 10, 2008

Um...I've done this many times. In fact I offer to do it at this point (have a couple of bigwig recomenders that I hit up once in a while for it). They basically sign and mail whatever I write.

I don't feel guilty in the slightest for it. If someone feels that comfortable with me writing my own recomendation, they must like me.

I remember asking a similar question to someone a long time ago and they were like "well, write a good one!". No lies, of course, but ask the recomender "do you mind if it's glowing?" I mean, it would be pretty dumb to write a less than glowing recomendation, if you have the choice.
posted by sully75 at 3:51 AM on March 11, 2008

PS for the record whenever I've done this I've gotten the thing I was applying for.
posted by sully75 at 3:51 AM on March 11, 2008

When my PhD advisor asked me to do this for an award, he mentioned that I should write what I want him to say and "not worry about whether it's true or not" since he would take care of that. For more important letters (job, etc.), he asked for a bullet list of points I wanted him to make.

Don't worry about the morality of it; the person signing it can rewrite it however s/he sees fit. It is, of course, incredibly uncomfortable to write a recommendation for yourself because whatever you say feels presumptuous.

My advice- get over that as well as you can. Don't be afraid to sell yourself, and don't sell yourself short in the letter.
posted by JMOZ at 4:27 AM on March 11, 2008

It seems like she will need to write it from her boss' perspective and voice, which toes the line of dishonesty.

Nthing that this is not unusual, and is not dishonest. It's easier to revise than it is to create; drafting the letter gives him something to work with and lets him know what sort of points she would like emphasized.
posted by desuetude at 6:06 AM on March 11, 2008

This is normal practice and nothing to be concerned about. She should write herself a good reference letter and be thankful her boss is letting her go this route.
posted by Dasein at 6:36 AM on March 11, 2008

I had to do this for one of the people who sent in a letter of recommendation for grad school for me. I tried to be as factual as possible and not be over the top. I think the recommendation letters that people are most looking for are letters that give concrete examples of how you've excelled -- and really you're the best person to remember what those examples are. Chances are your recommender doesn't remember enough about the wonderful things you've done to write that letter, but I'm sure you do. Don't use lots of complimentary adjectives without backing them up. For example, for my grad school recommendation letter I mentioned that I was always in the top 5 % of my class (this was for the director of my undergrad program so that's something he might be expected to know), had always received great reports from all my professors and in the one class that the director took for me had participated enthusiastically and was a positive influence in the class. Think about the areas of your work that the recommender might be expected to be an expert in and focus on that. All the best!
posted by peacheater at 9:41 AM on March 11, 2008

It's not dishonest -- secretaries and other employees write letters in their boss's voice all the time. Your wife should just treat it like that, only the subject happens to be herself.
posted by SuperNova at 2:52 PM on March 12, 2008

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