writing your own recommendation


I asked for a recommendation from where I was interning this summer and the director said to write a recommendation and then she would sign it. I have never written a recommendation before, any ideas what I should write about?

I don’t think I would do that. Maybe others here will have different feelings about it, but it seems fradulent to me. If she is recommending you, it really should be her words, and you shouldn’t really even see it.

This has been kicked around before although I don’t recall any recent discussions about it. While I can respect that someone is very busy and therefore would like you to “help,” I’ve always felt that the ones who are your “referees” should think highly enough of you to put the work into a good LOR themselves. However, I am pretty sure there are folks on OPM who felt that they DID have a good, close relationship with a referee and yet were expected to provide, if not the finished letter, the “bones” of the LOR.

I think many people who are asked to write an LOR just don’t know what they are supposed to say in it. Or feel that perhaps they don’t know you well enough except in the one capacity (in this case, recent intern work) and think that the letter is supposed to be a summation of your life work to date. I don’t know.

When I was requesting LORs from my professors, I gave them each a copy of my (draft) personal statement so that they would know more about me than my class performance. (I did waive my right to see these letters so I have no idea what they actually said.)

The request to actually author the LOR is unnerving, certainly. Obviously it’s not intended to be an opening to commit fraud. And if you are being asked to write something that the director is willing to sign, there’s actually a fair amount of pressure on you to get it right. So I would say - what would you like your director to be able to say about you? What do YOU think were the highlights of your work and experience there? What would you hope caught the eyes of your superiors? What do you THINK is their estimation of you?

Those are the things to put in the letter. You absolutely want to phrase it in the most positive way possible without it being a puff piece. There should be nice, concrete examples of things you did that were highly regarded.

In a perfect world, I do still think that it is best if the referee writes his/her own LOR that is kept confidential from the person being recommended. However, this request is pretty commonplace. If it makes you really uncomfortable, consider the checks and balances in the system: if you write, “Joe was the greatest thing since sliced bread. He can marry my sister. Or, better yet, I might adopt him! And I would let him drive my Ferrari, absolutely…” well, not only is your supervisor not going to sign something like that, but you will have irreparably diminished yourself in his/her eyes. You’d better KNOW what your skills are and know what others think of you. It’s actually kind of a scary prospect.

Probably more than my $.02 on the matter…


… and this reminds me of a good example…

I have an M.D. colleague who awhile back was asked if the spouse of a former co-worker could shadow in his office. He said sure, the person shadowed for half a day, didn’t say much, and that was the end of that.

Until months later, when he got a letter from the former co-worker (and this was someone known YEARS prior to the shadowing gig, with no recent contact) thanking him for the shadowing opportunity. The co-worker went on to explain that the spouse had been trained as an M.D. in another country (an interesting fact that hadn’t been revealed during the shadowing experience), and a recommendation from my colleague for a residency position would be most appreciated. And since my colleague’s time was precious, the spouse had written a letter for him to sign.

The letter was kind of like my fake letter, extolling the spouse’s virtues from childhood and waxing rhapsodic about his/her’s dedication to medicine and how enthusiastic s/he was on a recent visit to my colleague’s office. It concluded with, “Please feel free to contact me for more information,” which would have been a good laugh because any residency program contacting my colleague would have gotten the response, “You know, I don’t actually know this person at all.” Furthermore, the spouse had lifted my colleague’s business logo from his website and put it on the letter, like letterhead.

Ewwwwwwwww. It was like having a stalker; he was really creeped out. Last I heard, he hadn’t figured out how to tell the ex-friend-ex-co-worker, “Uh, no, that’s not how it’s done.”

So anyway that’s an example of how NOT to do it. Aside from the creepy stalking part, the letter was full of all sorts of details about the applicant that my colleague does NOT know. If you write a letter for someone, they need to be able to comfortably put their name on it.


Finally (can you see that this is a topic I care about!), it’s too late for obesedude’s situation, and it may not apply, but be EXTREMELY selective about who you approach for LORs. Better to get a really detailed, knowledgeable letter from the Assistant Chief Bottle-Washer than a generic rubber-stamp one from the Chief Executive Officer of Bottle-Washers United. In other words, don’t grab the highest rank, pick the person who KNOWS you.

This was why I felt so fortunate at GMU that my chem, o-chem and physics lecturers also had lab sessions. I took their labs so that they would know me in a small group as well as a big lecture hall, and I think it really helped to make me a known quantity in an otherwise relatively impersonal setting.

Okay I have GOT to do some work… enough messing around!


I think tomorrow is my first attending payday! Oh boy!

I agree with both of you. I felt weirded out her asking me to write the recommendation and I also felt cornered because this wasn’t any ordinary recommendation. This is a recommendation on prostate cancer research I did and between working fulltime and going to school, it was really difficult finding extracurricular activities that would fit into my schedule let alone relate to the healthcare field. I don’t know if this a recommendation that I need but I have to believe its an important one. I would consider asking someone else in the department but I haven’t worked w/ them for an extended period of time so how could I ask them to write me a good recommendation while at the same time not offending my supervisor (that I am taking back my request for a recommendation from her).

I get nearly apoplectic on this topic. The bottom line, short and sweet…DON’T DO IT. There are comments in the archives, including mine, about what could happen if someone knows someone who knows someone (actually it can take only one degree of separation) and suddenly AMCAS is involved. And that mess can stymie your medical career for good. Possible forever.



I think one of those earlier posts was from me, in a not-too-dissimilar situation. In addition to Judy’s point, I just would have felt uncomfortable about it, so I went another route.