As deadlines approach for graduate programs and students branch out into new careers, professors can begin to tip the scales for success.
Recommendations from professors or relevant professionals in a field in which students are wishing to participate can open doors and bridge gaps between dreams and possibilities. Some professors have policies regarding recommendations outlined in their syllabi. Dr. William Christensen, professor of business management, said he doesn’t have a formal policy but rather a general practice.
Christensen said the interactions start out with students contacting him, and most of the time they are looking for job recommendations, not general ones.
The biggest worry for professors is a student who they don’t feel they can endorse asks for a recommendation, Christensen said.
“So far that hasn’t really happened,” Christensen said. “And I think generally professors are more than happy to write a letter of recommendation.”
Christensen said to avoid this possibility, it’s best for students to pick a professor who knows them and likes them. Professors are putting their reputation on the line when recommending students they don’t believe are qualified or have the right experience, Christensen said.
“Don’t put [professors] on the spot,” Christensen said. “It would be embarrassing for the student for the professor to say no, and it could put a professor in kind of a bad position because we all want to be helpful.”
Once a student asks for the recommendation, and the professor believes this student is qualified, Christensen said he asks the student to write the letter of recommendation. This gives him an idea of what they want to highlight, what the letter is for, and helps professors so they don’t have to start a letter from scratch, he said.
“What I do is I edit it,” Christensen said. “And if there’s things I disagree with, I ‘X’ them out, and if there’s things I think they should have said I add them. It gives me a good starting point.”
Christensen said this helps students because they might have the job description or requirements in front of them, and by writing the letter they can hit each requirement like a rubric.
Christensen said, “It makes it faster and easier for me to do, and hopefully it makes it better for the student because the letter is more tailored to the position they are seeking.”
Christensen said he’s kept virtually every letter of recommendation he’s written on his computer so if the student or coworker asks for a second recommendation, there is no need to restart the process.
Spencer Faught, a junior psychology major from Las Vegas, said he hasn’t asked or received any recommendations yet.
“I suppose I have reservations about what they’d say or if they’d approve,” Faught said.
For students who haven’t asked for recommendations for fear of being turned down or when wanting to ask an intimidating professor, Christensen said it helps to pick a professor who they have a good relationship with, but overall professors are more than happy to write recommendations.
“Getting recommendations isn’t as scary as a lot of students believe,” said Misty Bills, a senior theater major from Idaho Falls. “Professors want students to succeed; they aren’t working against us, but with us.”
Christensen said, despite his fear, he has yet to have turned down a student.
“I may not write as glowing a letter…but I will never write a bad letter,” Christensen said.
Christensen said professors expect to be asked for recommendations, and in many institutions professors are able secure jobs for students.
“As a professor it’s sort of our job to help [students] get jobs,” Christensen said.
A student doesn’t need a recommendation from every professor, Christensen said, and it’s best for students to be proactive when asking professors. Having a little information on what the recommendation is for and experience the student has, if writing an email, when asking is the best approach, Christensen said.
“Most of the time employers are looking for recommendations from past employers or coworkers,” Christensen said. “Professor recommendations are great to get into research [teams], or when applying for graduate schools.”