Letters of Recommendation

How Many Letters Should You Have?

Between 4 and 6 is ideal. 3 is the absolute minimum.

Who Should I Get Them From?

  1. Definitely your dissertation advisor
  2. The other readers on your dissertation committee
  3. A faculty member who knows your teaching well (and if nobody does, invite someone you admire as a teacher to come to your classroom and observe you! Give her some sample syllabi and assignments!)
  4. A faculty member or administrator with whom you work on a special project or in an administrative capacity. If you work at the CTLT, for example, ask someone there to speak to your enthusiasm for service. If you worked in the Writing Center (or our UCLA), try that. The pub unit, with faculty on a research mentorship, etc.
  5. A faculty member at another institution that you know professionally and who can speak to your accomplishments and potential.
  6. Any other faculty who knows your research well.
  7. Someone in the department who is important in your field. If you haven’t worked at all with that person, send them a polite initial e-mail asking if they would consider writing a letter for you if you send a sample of your work.
Anything Special I Should Tell My Recommenders?
When faculty agree to write your letters, promptly send them materials that can help them write a better letter for you. Your CV, a writing sample or seminar paper or chapter of your dissertation, a dissertation abstract if you can put one together, a syllabus, your teaching philosophy if you have it — send each person what you think s/he needs to write most specifically and concretely about you. Keep your communication open. Keep your recommenders aware of what schools you’re applying to, also, because they may have colleagues at those places. Ask them if they might read drafts of your cover letter.
When Do I Need the Letters?
Ideally, near the end of the spring semester before you go on the market you will ask faculty if they will write job letters for you. If you didn’t, you should write them asap the first week of the fall semester. If you did ask in the spring, send a “just checking in” note the first week of the fall so they remember.
Ask faculty if they can send the letter to the Career Center (or the online service you’re using) by the last week of September or October 1. If you see an ad with an earlier deadline, e-mail them all immediately to let them know that you just saw a job you want to apply for with an earlier deadline and see if they can finish it sooner. Usually, Oct. 1 is plenty of time for you and them both. Do NOT give them the deadline of when you need your application in. You don’t want to be worrying about whether a school ignored your application because your letters weren’t there yet.
This is My Second/Third/Fourth Year on the Market
Then ask your referees from last year if they will update your letters and send the new ones down to the Career Center or to the online site. To help them update, send them your updated CV, any new writing you’ve done, etc.