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Subject: Question for College Professorial Types rss

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Scott B
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I'm thinking of going back to school, again, and most likely into a grad program. I'll need letters of reference, but I don't have too many people in my past life I'm super comfortable asking for them. There are a few people at work I've asked, and I've asked others in the past, and they've all said kind of the same thing - "you write it, I'll sign it." I suppose I can work with that, since they can always change what they want before they sign, or not sign at all. The problem is - what kinds of things go in these kinds of letters? I am super uncomfortable talking about myself in a flattering way, but I would assume a letter that talks about me from my perspective wouldn't get me far. Anybody have any experience with/advice for such things? Thanks in advance.
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Society of Watchers
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Landstander wrote:
I'm thinking of going back to school, again, and most likely into a grad program. I'll need letters of reference, but I don't have too many people in my past life I'm super comfortable asking for them. There are a few people at work I've asked, and I've asked others in the past, and they've all said kind of the same thing - "you write it, I'll sign it." I suppose I can work with that, since they can always change what they want before they sign, or not sign at all. The problem is - what kinds of things go in these kinds of letters? I am super uncomfortable talking about myself in a flattering way, but I would assume a letter that talks about me from my perspective wouldn't get me far. Anybody have any experience with/advice for such things? Thanks in advance.



OK, sorry for the first comment to be snarky, but,

"I'm willing to work hard for little to no money, and little to no appreciation."
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Jonny Lawless
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FWIW I picked the brain of the admissions guy of my MBA program. He said that they usually just glance at the reference letters provided in the application. He mentioned it doesn't hold much weight since generally everyone has stellar references, likely for the reasons you've mentioned.

I'd get something passable on paper and save your stress for the rest of the application.
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Shoot, this sounds like the perfect project for Chit Chat.

"One of the characteristics which makes Landstander such pleasant company is his profound distaste for referring to himself in the third person, which he has nevertheless forced himself to do for the entirety of this letter."
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"As further evidence of his unbridled efficiency and outside-the-box thinking, he made stunning progress on his various research projects even while this letter was being crowdsourced. Yet, his trust that the entire Internet loves him unreservedly is indicative not of arrogance or unchecked confidence, but rather of his many years of study among these crude but strangely accepting beasts."
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Mike Bialecki
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Don't stress too much about the letter. In the end, it's not really going to be the deciding factor.

With that said, stay away from platitudes. Be sure to back up character assessments with concrete examples - don't just say that you are hard-working. Describe things that you have done that show you are hard-working.
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mbialeck wrote:
With that said, stay away from platitudes. Be sure to back up character assessments with concrete examples - don't just say that you are hard-working. Describe things that you have done that show you are hard-working.


This.

What you are doing is essentially writing a resume in prose rather than outline format. Make sure you have real examples of the things you claim on the off chance that someone actually reads your letter closely.

When your friends tell you to "write it and I'll sign it", ask them to name a positive trait about you so you can put it in the letter. By the time you've asked several people, you should have three or four things you can mention. Don't spend a lot of time writing about each one -- mention it, put down the example, then move on to the next one.
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Scott B
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claymore_57 wrote:
mbialeck wrote:
With that said, stay away from platitudes. Be sure to back up character assessments with concrete examples - don't just say that you are hard-working. Describe things that you have done that show you are hard-working.


This.

What you are doing is essentially writing a resume in prose rather than outline format. Make sure you have real examples of the things you claim on the off chance that someone actually reads your letter closely.

When your friends tell you to "write it and I'll sign it", ask them to name a positive trait about you so you can put it in the letter. By the time you've asked several people, you should have three or four things you can mention. Don't spend a lot of time writing about each one -- mention it, put down the example, then move on to the next one.

Thanks for the advice so far - I will try to assimilate it. But I just want to make one clarification: I haven't asked "friends," I'm asking people at work, either work managers, other managers, or possibly distinguished co-workers. I figured asking friends would be fine if I were planning to get a degree in Boardgame Curmudgeonology or Star Wars Histrionics.
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I think, if possible, you should try a little more to find people who are willing to write the letter themselves without input. I know in my graduate program the letters are important and are often taken into account in choosing to invite a person to interview weekends.

If you do decide to prewrite your letters, I would focus on discussing the projects that you worked on and what you accomplished, your ability to solve problems, your work ethic, your adaptability and ability to take criticism and advice, and ability to work independently toward a stated goal. These are all things that are important in graduate studies.
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