It’s spring, that wonderful time of year when lots of award nominations are due, and many chemical professionals are asked to write supporting letters. There is an art to writing a great letter of recommendation, and a few steps can ensure that you write the strongest letter possible.
COMMIT. When you’re asked to write a letter about someone else, consider the request before you accept. Do you know this person well enough to do him or her justice? Do you respect the person, and his or her work, enough that you are eager to tie your reputations together? Do you have time to craft a compelling letter before the deadline? Only if you can enthusiastically accept should you agree.
COLLECT. Start by collecting the necessary background information. Ask for a résumé or CV of your subject, the requirements and judging criteria for the award, and the requested document type. Is there a form? Should the letter be a certain length?
Look through past e-mails and other communications from the candidate, annual performance reports, and other documents that will spark your memory about specific projects and activities that you worked on together.
In many cases the nomination needs to be kept secret from the nominee, but the person’s LinkedIn profile, spouse or partner, and other colleagues can be valuable sources of information.
COMPOSE. Start writing your letter. Begin by describing how you know the candidate and for how long. Describe how the person meets the award criteria, making sure to include specific examples. Don’t just write “Steve is a team player.” Provide details of the time Steve took the tasks no one else wanted and completed them on time and under budget to allow the team to succeed.
There’s no need to repeat dates and facts from elsewhere in the application package. The reviewers want to get to know the candidate as a person, and they are looking for a sense of who that person is and how well he or she fulfills the qualifications for the award.
Make sure that you follow the formatting specifications exactly, or the candidate’s application may be rejected on a technicality.
COORDINATE. If possible, coordinate with others who are writing supporting documents so you don’t duplicate another’s coverage. Instead, your submissions can be complementary if they describe different aspects of the candidate.
CHECK. As with any important document, once you think it’s done, put it aside for a couple of days or at least overnight. Then read it over again and make sure it flows smoothly. Confirm that you have addressed all, or at least all that you can, of the award criteria. Send a hard copy with plenty of time to make the deadline, and let the nominator know you have done so.
It is an honor, and an obligation, to be asked to write a letter of recommendation for a colleague. If you respect and admire the candidate enough to agree, you owe it to that person to write the strongest, most compelling letter you can.
Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (www.acs.org/network-careers).