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Placements and internships are an incredibly hectic affair.
There are several things an overworked architecture student must do to secure an internship, such as maintaining amazing grades, taking on extra courses, co-curricular activities… the list goes on and on!
Something that can help you distinguish yourself from the swarm of applicants, compensate for shortcomings and substantially increase your chances of acceptance, whether for a job, internship or anything in between, is a letter of recommendation.
But how do you get one? Who do you ask for one? How should it be worded? All these questions and more, answered in this guide, so let’s get started!
How to Write & Request a Letter of Recommendation
Solicitation is the first step of arranging an effective letter of recommendation and can make or break your chances at obtaining a letter of recommendation, and, potentially, your desired position in your desired organization. Follow these tips to get it right.
Deciding who you want to recommend you
Organizations, when they open applications, expect applicants to carry with them glittering letters of recommendation from stalwarts of the industry.
So, why don’t all of them get taken on? Because organizations know such letters are mere shells and do not speak about the character, work ethic, conduct, etc. of the applicant at all, which is what they look for.
So, instead of seeking a recommendation from someone you spent fifteen minutes in a workshop with, try to get it from someone who knows you, your skills, strengths, weaknesses, and discipline intimately.
Additionally, if you happen to be on good terms, professionally speaking, with someone whose word you think would go a long way in the application process, they’d make a good recommender.
Lastly, it’s not worth seeking a recommendation from someone who’s most likely to turn you down, which makes our case even more compelling.
Know the recommender
Once you’ve decided who you want to recommend you, don’t just waltz into their office and demand a letter. Instead, study their working pattern, schedule, mood, etc. and look for the right moment to solicit a letter.
Is this important? Yes, because your recommender is not bound to praise you in the letter, and since, in all probability, you will not get to see the letter (more on that later), and if you catch them in a bad mood, you won’t get a very pleasant letter (if you end up getting one at all).
Besides, it’s important to remember that every recommender is free to exercise their discretion while writing the letter, and they’re human, and humans are prone to arbitrariness in the exercise of their discretion.
Follow the KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
A lot will depend on how you’re perceived in the eyes of the recommender, and there’s not a lot you can do to change that during the pitch, so being in their good books always helps.
If you’re a student and seek an internship, fellowship, or grant, the pitch shouldn’t be much of a problem. Dress sharp and approach a professor who’s on cordial terms with you, tell them you’re applying for an internship and it’d do wonders for your application if they could write you a letter of recommendation. Done!
If your university has a standardized system of obtaining letters of recommendation, the process becomes even less of a hassle.
If you’re a full-fledged architect and want to leave your organization, things might get a little complicated, because your boss may not be completely on-board with your looking to jump ship. They might need to ask you for reasons, attempt to convince you not to leave, et al. Anticipate these questions in advance and prepare watertight answers for them.
Of course, the hassle doesn’t apply to grants, because who would deny help to their employees for obtaining a third-party grant?
Lastly, don’t sound desperate. First, make yourself believe that the letter isn’t the do-all, end-all, and it is merely an accretion to your application to your desired organization, not a core part of it. Also, give them enough time and space to write the letter, as too much pestering will only harm your prospects.
With every process, there come details, and the process for obtaining a letter of recommendation is no different.
First, make sure your recommender is aware of the procedure required to be followed for submitting the letter. As a university student, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you, because most universities, along with streamlining the solicitation process, have also simplified the submission process.
Moreover, your university is probably already in touch with the organization where you wish to apply, so, chances are that your professor is already aware of the process.
But, this won’t always be the case, which is why it is crucial for you to do the homework and figure out the exact manner in which the letter is to be submitted, along with what contents it should contain. Once done, brief your professor about the process. Remember, it is you who wants the letter, and the due diligence is your job.
As an architect, be careful while applying for a grant. Most grants have convoluted requirements from the letters of recommendation received, and these requirements must be strictly adhered to. Again, the onus is on you to carry out the due diligence and brief your recommender.
Make sure the recommender is aware of the contents of the letter must contain (make a list and give it to them, if possible). This step is crucial because you probably won’t get to see the letter itself, so any errors made at the preliminary stage can prove fatal to your application.
There’s no set format for soliciting a letter of recommendation. One question we get asked a lot is, “Should I ask in-person or via letter/application/social media?”
The boring answer is, it depends. If your impression on the recommender is favorable, and if you’re confident that things will go your way (or, at least, not become awkward), asking in-person is preferred to a written request, as it is more personal and the recommender is less likely to forget your request.
However, if that is not the case, always write out a formal request. Preferred mediums are email and a typed application, with less-preferred mediums being social media (and… whatever comes next). Make sure the application contains all the relevant details you’d like included (work experience, etc.) and a primer on the process would be greatly appreciated.
Make sure the request is devoid of grammatical and syntactical errors, as these may put the recommender off.
Lastly, even if you make an in-person request, a follow-up written request would be appreciated, as, at the very least, it would create a record of your application (useful for forgetful bosses and professors).
Apart from all this, don’t freak out if you don’t get to see your letter of recommendation. This is done to ensure the recommender has the freedom he deserves while writing your letter (so they can include the less-than-pleasant points, if they wish to). Fret not, instead, prepare answers in advance for things you think might potentially need explaining.
This section will deal with how you ought to go about writing a letter of recommendation if you’re in a position to do so, and someone requests you for one.
Make a list
This article was pretty easy to write. Why? Because I’d already created an informal list of all I wanted to tell you, a skeleton, if you will. A list helps you organize your thoughts, gives structure to what you’re writing, reduces chances of errors, and ensures nothing is left out.
Similarly, while writing a letter of recommendation, make a list of all the things about the applicant you want to mention. Are they a diligent worker? Do they have an eye for detail? Are they punctual? Are they prone to insubordination? Before all this finds mention in the letter, it should find mention in a list.
Include your experiences
Making the letter stand out in a sea of other similar ones could make or break your employee’s prospects, and if you don’t want to see the latter happen, then including specific examples could enhance your letter manifold.
Did they go the extra mile once? Do they regularly put in overtime? Or, did they misplace files once? Did they speak rudely and arrogantly to you?
Including examples will also work to give the reader an idea of the applicant’s personality, something which will aid the interview process as well.
…and this letter is not going to buck the trend. Don’t stress too much about it; in all probability, it will be given a mere cursory glance by the reader (but it still has to be good, mind you). Therefore, it’s imperative for you to write first and amend later because time is often of the essence in these situations.
While editing, remember to amend the wording and substitute words with synonyms as and when necessary to make it more readable/formal/whatever the desired effect be. Ensure the punctuation is bang-on, because, it is only fair for you to do what the applicant did while requesting the letter from you.
And, this goes without saying, grammatical and syntactical errors shouldn’t find a place in the letter. In an age of increasing lenience when it comes to those, a letter with perfect formatting will always command brownie points over one, which looks like a teenager wrote it with questionable writing skills.
Lastly, if you feel a little stuck, you can always take essay help, if the interview procedure involves you writing essays. Remember, your skills in architecture is what matters most; not English writing skills!
Make it unique
Let’s face it; the reader is already familiar with any and every standard letter of recommendation template you send them. Besides, most of the templates online are pretty generic; they won’t pertain to architecture.
So, do the right thing by putting the effort in and making the letter as unique and personalized as possible. You can do this by, obviously, not following a fixed template, but also by mentioning specific instances (discussed above) and by making the language as reflective of your opinion towards the applicant as possible.
There’s more at stake
…than the applicant’s career. Recruiters and anyone else who’ll end up reading the letter will form an opinion not just of the candidate, but also of you. How forgiving are you towards the students? Can your word be trusted? Are you a professional in your affairs?
While this will probably not affect you in the short run, it might affect the prospects of those approaching you in the future for a similar letter, because if an adverse opinion is formed about you, rest assured, your recommendations will always be taken with a pinch of salt.
Moreover, word travels fast in an industry, and your reputation as a professional might come into question. Is it too far-fetched to think all of that depends on a letter of recommendation? Maybe, but what’s the point in taking an unnecessary risk?
A letter of recommendation is an excellent way of letting a recruiter or authority know that the applicant or candidate sitting before them has sound credentials and is worthy of the role. It is also a method of leveling the playing field by pointing out some unpleasant aspects of the candidate.
Soliciting a letter is not a very difficult task, though it is very easy to get wrong. By following the tips in this guide and with a little common sense, you should be able to obtain a letter easily.
Similarly, writing a letter is easy to get wrong, and considering there’s a little more at stake than meets the eye, you should pay attention to what you write. The tips mentioned in this guide will surely help you with the process.