Recycling reference letters

Apr 3rd, 2011 | By | Category: Applications

This post was originally published on the Michigan State University School of Journalism’s website.

Michigan State University
School of Journalism

A student recently wrote, “I am … starting the process of applying for scholarships. Many require letters of recommendation. Is it socially/ethically responsible to use these letters of recommendation for more than one scholarship? More than one job offer?”

It is entirely ethical and acceptable to use a letter of recommendation for more than one opportunity. In fact, the people who write these letters would probably rather have you reuse them than to have to churn out a new one for every application.

Before you reuse the letters, make sure they are not written for specific opportunities. You’ll look bad if you send a foundation or employer a letter telling it how perfect you are for another.

If you would like to use letters over and over again, ask your backers to write generic letters.

The most effective letters are written specifically for the opportunity, reflecting the attributes that make you ideal for a particular opportunity. That demands a lot from you and from your supporters, so I would reserve that treatment for special cases.

Make it easy on the people you want letters from by giving them the contact and address they should be writing to. Don’t expect them to address and stamp envelopes for you.

You’ll also have better letters if you can tell the writers a little about the specific qualities that the recipients are looking for. Those are usually described in the scholarship application or job posting.

I always recommend that applicants ask, “If I were to use you as a reference, what would you say about me?” rather than to just ask for a letter. Occasionally, I have gotten such weak recommendations that the letter told me to move on.

When all is said and done, have the good grace to thank your backers and tell them how things turned out. Good luck.

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