Guidelines for Serving as a Reference
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The following guidelines are merely suggestions to aid faculty in choosing to serve as a reference; more specifically, in writing recommendation letters.
Before Writing a Letter
- To Agree or Not to Agree: Agree to write a letter only if you can honestly write a supportive letter. Decline the request, if you either do not know the individual well enough or cannot comment positively about their abilities and skills.
Ask the student to provide you with 1) a due date, 2) a current résumé and 3) all contact information necessary to address the letter of recommendation.
- Job Search Recommendations: Ask for the exact position description or one representative of the type of position the applicant is seeking. Ask for a summary of the candidate's professional goals.
- Graduate School Search Recommendations: Ask for a copy of the student's personal statement, and any specific criteria requested by the graduate/professional school program (i.e., a specific recommendation form or questionnaire).
Writing a Letter
- Start the letter by describing how and for how long you have known the individual. Mention specific situations where you worked with or observed the individual.
- Provide your evaluation of the candidate's capabilities and suitability to the profession. Identify key areas such as work performance, management and research abilities, leadership qualities, cross-cultural and interpersonal skills. For graduate school recommendations, specifically reference the student's ability to conduct research and scholarly work.
- Offer a "big picture" of the candidate's overall promise and potential.
- Try to differentiate and highlight the candidate's specific and individual strengths.
- Specific examples are the strongest evidence supporting the candidate's abilities. Don't be too brief, but instead provide relevant information and examples of candidate's achievements.
- State your own qualifications as they relate to the profession, organization or program.
- In most cases, a letter of recommendation is one page with up to four paragraphs.
- Recommendations should be printed on university letterhead and signed.
After Writing a Letter
- Consider providing the student with a copy.
- Keep a copy of the recommendation for your records.
- Ask the student to update you on the process.
Additional resources from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
- Tips for Providing References
- Sample Letter of Recommendation
- Faculty Guide to Ethical and Legal Standards in Student Hiring
- More Links to Legal/Ethical Resources
FERPA and Letters of Recommendation
UW-Platteville faculty and staff who serve as a reference for a student have an additional responsibility under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to obtain a signed, written consent from the student to disclose information in a student’s education record. Therefore, faculty who wish to disclose a student's grade or GPA must get the student's signed, written consent prior to disclosing any non-directory information.
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