Writing Your Own Letter of Recommendation

You want ME to write MY OWN letter of recommendation!?

Have you ever asked a professor or supervisor to write a letter of recommendation for you for a job application, and they’ve responded by asking you to write it yourself?  It happens more than you’d think!   While some students’ immediate response is “SWEET!”, I’ve found that most students who are asked to write their own letter of recommendation begin to second guess their request:

“Are recommenders so busy that they really don’t have the time to write a letter for me?  Can’t they think of anything good to say?  Maybe they don’t really care about my next career move?”

Writing your own letter of recommendation is an opportunity, not a punishment. You should also consider it a compliment!

The Performance Review

In my first professional job I was surprised to learn that the preliminary part of my annual performance review involved a self-evaluation and rating exercise.  I was responsible for answering a series of questions about my work, learning outcomes, challenges and achievements, as well as rate myself on a scale of 1-4, with 4 being “exceeds expectations”.  My supervisor was required to do the same, and we later met to share our evaluations about me!  In the end, the performance evaluation that was filed with human resources was a collaborative effort in which I had my fair share of input and control.  Ultimately, this document was also used to determine my annual salary increase.

You can see how writing your own letter of recommendation is a version of the performance review process that I described above.  You may encounter a slightly different version of this task in a job interview win which the interviewer could ask “If I spoke with a former supervisor, what would he/she say about your strengths and weaknesses?”  In fact, I asked this very question in an interview recently!

As difficult as these tasks might seem, if you are introduced to this type of self critique now, you’ll surely be able to master it later when a promotion or salary increase is at stake.

Tips for Writing Your Own Letter of Recommendation

  • If you’ve ever gone through a series of self-assessment exercises, such as an interest or skills inventory or a personality assessment, you’ve already begun the process of understanding yourself well.  Coming back to these resources is a good place to start when you are brainstorming for your letter.
  • An effective letter will be catered to the job description, like a cover letter.  You’ll want to use the job description as a check list; if there’s anything on that check list that matches something in your current job description, you’ve got to write about it!
  • Asking supervisors and faculty to write letters of recommendation is best done with a strategy in mind.  Let’s say that the job requires customer service experience, good written communication skills, and a positive attitude.You’ll want people who can talk about all of these things.  For example, if you have three recommenders, you may ask someone who can speak about your customer service orientation, someone who can talk about your writing skills, and a third person who can rave about your ability to go above and beyond the call of duty.  If you are writing your own letter for one of these recommenders, don’t forget why you chose them and what you hoped they would write about you.
  • Rather than filling the letter with lots of adjectives and compliments, focus on real accomplishments and provide detailed examples.
  • Find sample letters of recommedation and review them before you write your letter.  Make sure that you are using the correct format for a business letter.
  • Don’t forget that you’ re not only writing this letter for a prospective employer, you’re also writing this letter for your recommender.  Your recommender is serving a dual role in this case – he or she is maintaining their role as your supervisor and providing mentoring and professional development by asking you to write your own letter.  He or she is also serving as a recommender, so there’s the additional responsibility of assessing your performance and conveying this to an external agent.
  • The “draft” that you provide to the recommender to sign shouldn’t be a draft at all – it should be a perfectly polished letter ready to be signed, sealed and delivered.
  • Don’t be insulted when your supervisor decides to edit.  They’ll want to apply their own language and voice to your content.
  • You know that you should send a thank you note  to all of your recommenders.  In the case of someone who asks you to write your own letter, you may want to emphasize how this process was a good learning experience.

In my experience as a supervisor . . .

I’ve been asked to write lots of letters of recommendations for students, but I’ve never felt strongly enough to throw the responsibility back at someone.  That’s not to say I haven’t managed some phenomenal students; I just haven’t had someone come along who I think is up to the task.  So, when he or she does come along, that person will really be top notch.

The Golden Ticket

Let’s just say that if you get to write your own letter of recommendation, you’ve got the golden ticket. You know exactly why you chose to apply for this opportunity, you’ve written a persuasive cover letter, and you’ve probably been going over in your head why you are the best person for the job.  So, why shouldn’t you deserve the opportunity to express all of this through the voice of someone who really respects you for the work you’ve accomplished for them.



Nicole Anderson is an Assistant Director/Career Counselor for Tufts University Career Services. With fourteen years of experience in college career services, Nicole’s expertise includes career counseling undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni from liberal arts, science, engineering, business, and education.

Related posts:

  1. Keys to Writing a Cover Letter
  2. Write a Killer ‘Thank You’ Letter
  3. Your Cover Letter is Not About You

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