“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” – Sir Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton owed his success to a known secret: you look beyond the status quo through the discoveries and lessons of other successful people. Today, to stand on the shoulder of giants may mean simply requesting a recommendation letter. Particularly in academic careers, recommendation letters are necessary requirements. These letters give a candidate a lift off the rest of the pack.
Sometimes, though, the giants in our lives are preoccupied with activities and commitments that keep them busy. So, should you then just stand aboard other shoulders?
Why you may need a self-recommendation letter
When I decided to apply for a faculty position in a premier university, I needed to submit three recommendation letters. I already have a list of four or five people to send a request for recommendation: two previous company supervisors, two previous professors in graduate school, and one member of my thesis committee.
I sent the requests and expected either a commitment to write the letter or a rejection because of busy schedules.
Two replies were neither: I received instructions to draft respective recommendation letters. I assumed this was because of their busy schedules: both held high positions in their respective organizations.
If you were in my place, your response may have been similar: paralysis. I did not know how to sell myself without sounding too proud or too modest. However, as I collected myself, I realized: this is a great opportunity. My two references really want to help me. They are busy, but they still want to support me in this application.
But, how can one tread the line between stating accomplishments and just tooting horns?
It is important to realize that through writing a self-recommendation letter, you accomplish three things.
- First, you reflect on your milestones, putting yourself on the shoes of your references to determine which milestones are relevant to who.
- Second, you show your objectivity in self-evaluation to someone you respect – your professional reference. You are not too high on a horse yet you know you are not a weakling.
- Third, you have the advantage of communicating the accomplishments you think qualify you for the position. You promote your professional brand as a person who will make waves in the organization, company, or university.
How to write a self-recommendation letter
After sending my self-recommendation letters for review, I received two different responses.
One of my references edited the letter. He added some personal anecdotes about our working relationship. Some additions had previously skipped my mind; I did not know that some little things I did meant greatly to him and left a good lasting impression.
The other one, meanwhile, returned an undersigned copy of the exact letter. I received this as a seal of satisfaction for the letter I wrote.
Do you need to write a self-recommendation? Here are some guidelines I learned in drafting my self- recommendation letter:
- Write distinct self-recommendation letters for each reference. Tell stories that are unique to you and your reference. These narratives will make your application stand-out and focus the theme of the letter.
- Keep your curriculum vitae or resume close for quick reference. Your mind will benefit from having a ready source of ideas. Your application is a package, so all elements must be coherent and representative of one brand: you!
- Do not worry about perfection. Your letter will surely be read at least once before being undersigned. Just make sure the letter is free from clumsy grammar and spelling errors, as a sign of respect towards your references.
- In the forwarding e-mail, express sincere gratitude towards your references. They are putting their reputations at stake to support your application, so the least you can say is “Thanks!”
Recommend yourself with confidence
Writing a self-recommendation letter is a great opportunity to help your references help you! They may have the willingness to help you, they may think you are worth the position, but they may also be swamped in busy schedules. Help them help you!
Have other suggestions in writing recommendation letters? Leave a comment!