12/28/2016 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

What Should My References Write? 4 Tips

Man in suit holds index card reading

As a new or returning candidate beginning a job search, it's important to spend time to complete and perfect your candidate file. Besides your resume, one of the most important parts of your candidate file is the reference section, complete with three to five letters of recommendation from your current or prior employers, professors, or other individuals who can attest to your work ethic, subject knowledge, and experience working with kids. Hiring schools value letters of recommendation because they confirm your qualifications and offer insight into your personality from an outside source.

Your references will likely have plenty of questions for you. What should they write? What’s a Placement Associate anyway? And wait a minute…will they have to write a different letter for every position to which you’re referred?

Put their minds at ease: each reference writer only need write one letter of recommendation, which we’ll send to your referrals along with your resume and personal statement. When you give your references instructions, make sure they know that their letters should position you in the best light toward prospective employers.

Teaching is a competitive field, so standout letters of recommendation will go a long way. Here are some tips to pass along to your references.

1.  Start Out Strong

The strongest letters of recommendation begin with a clear and enthusiastic statement of support. Ask your reference to summarize in a line or two your professional and personal strengths, and summarize what the main points of the letter will present. The beginning should also briefly explain who the reference is and what his or her relationship to you is. Schools want to know why your reference's opinion matters.

2.  Overall, General is Best…

As a candidate with us, it’s likely that you’ll be referred to a variety of different types of positions at different schools. Within any given time, you could have outstanding referrals at boarding schools, college prep schools, Montessori schools, charter schools—you name it. If your search is fairly flexible, make sure your referee knows that. Instruct him or her to avoid languages like, “Jane would be an excellent addition to a Catholic school community” if you’re also interested in secular schools, or “her real passion lies in instructing young children,” if you’re also open to middle or upper school jobs. Make sure your reference writers don’t inadvertently close any doors that you’d like to leave open.

3.  …But Include Some Details If Possible

While it’s wise to stay general when it comes to describing the types of environments and opportunities you’re seeking, your reference writers should feel free to provide details about you as a person and a teacher and specific examples that indicate why they’ve chosen to champion you during your job search. A letter that’s too general and only lists adjectives such as “hard-working, intelligent, and friendly” can border on boring or disingenuous; encourage your referees to share the unique aspects of you that will set you apart from other candidates—in other words, it goes a long way to “show” instead of just “tell.”

4.  Write About What Schools Want to Read

In every aspect of your candidate file, schools want to see a few basic things: clues about your personality as a potential employee and colleague, examples of your subject mastery, and details about your excitement for and experience with working with children. It may be the case that one referee can’t best discuss each of these aspects, so recruit different individuals to cover different parts of you. A college professor could discuss your academic ability, while a program director at your school could write about how well you connect with your students. Any time they can discuss your work ethic, your ability to collaborate, and your attitude, they should.

In Summary (and where to send your letters)

Tell your references that all they have to do is draft a one-to-two page letter that discusses the content above. If they wish for their letter to remain confidential (i.e. they don't want to send it directly to you for your file), they can send their letters to your Placement Associate.

Letters of recommendation are some of the more important documents your prospective employers will read. Make sure you help your referees write the best possible letters for you—that can help you make the right match with schools and positions.

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