Don Colton: Letters of Recommendation

I am frequently asked to provide letters of recommendation by current or former students or employees. I am pleased to do this.

Applicant: that would be you.

Recipient: that would be the person or organization to which the letter will eventually be sent.

Brutal Fact of Life: I have way more to do each day than I have time for. I pick and choose what I will work on. Some tasks never get completed. It's about priorities. If we have a strong relationship, I will make time for you. If we have a normal relationship, you are competing along with lots of other worthy and interesting projects. I tend to do easy things first. The best way to get a good letter of recommendation from me is to make my work as easy as possible.

If our relationship is mostly that you were a student in one or more of my classes, that's normal, and I ask that you ghost write the letter for me as described below. If we worked closely together over a period of months or longer, that's strong, and I can probably write the letter without your help.

Ghost Letter: Create the letter for me. By this I mean that you should write a letter as though I myself had written it. Sometimes this is called Ghost Writing. This saves me a lot of time and buys you priority in my list of things to do. This gives you the opportunity to show me exactly what you want me to say. It serves to remind me of things I may have forgotten. It serves to identify which facts you deem to be most important. Do not worry that you are putting words into my mouth. I will simply revise the letter you provide by changing any statements with which I do not fully agree. Send the ghost letter, ready to print and sign, as an email attachment in Microsoft Word or embed or attach it in plain text.

Resume: Not needed. Give me the ghost letter instead. Embed the facts that you think are relevant. I will let you do the "heavy lifting" instead of me doing it. Boil it down for me.

Recipient: Tell me about the recipient. This helps me understand what kinds of things they will want to know. This may be implicit in the full address, but you may be able to further clarify. Make sure I have the full address for the intended recipient. This can most easily be done by including it in the opening part of the ghost letter you write.

Online: Some organizations provide a web interface for collecting information and recommendations. Frequently this is the case for graduate schools. I like this way of responding better than creating printed paper letters. Paper letters usually take me three to four times as long as online ones.

Confidentiality: Most recipients prefer a confidential letter of recommendation. A confidential letter is more likely to be trusted because there is less pressure to say what the applicant wants and more freedom to say the truth. In most cases I am totally comfortable showing a copy of the letter to the applicant, but because of those few cases where I am not, my general rule is to create a situation in which the letter is confidential.

Pick Up: Generally I am uncomfortable writing letters for pick up. I prefer sending letters directly to the recipient. The main problem is confidentiality. A picked-up letter must be assumed to be non-confidential unless special precautions are taken. If the recipient specifies that the applicant should collect the letters and send them together with the application, usually this implies that they are not highly selective but are simply looking for general statements such as you are a nice guy and that I don't have any major concerns about you. I can do those kinds of letters too.

Linked In: I do write endorsements and recommendations for people that are connected to me on LinkedIn. My LinkedIn profile is here. In most cases I ask that you ghost-write the recommendation you want to see and I will work with it.

Bottom Line: Ghost write the letter for me. Email it to me. Along with it provide a description of the recipient. If possible provide a way to submit the recommendation online. If possible, provide a way for the recommendation to be confidential.

Emailing Me: How to avoid my spam filters. (I currently get 500 to 1200 spams a day, depending on the day of the week. Most of the email in my spam folder is deleted without ever being looked at.)

Contact Information: The receiver of the letter may want you to give them my contact information. You can use this information:

Don Colton, PhD
Associate Dean, College of Business, Computing, and Government
BYUH Box 1956
55-220 Kulanui Street
Laie, Hawaii, 96762, USA
Phone: 808.675.3478 My off-campus home page. My on-campus home page.