“Doctor, one of my former professors is asking me for a draft letter so that he can simply edit a letter of recommendation for me. What are some things I should mention?”
One of my mentees was applying to graduate school and posed this question to me. I have written many letters of recommendation for former students, residents, and employees. I have reviewed hundreds more in my professional career. However, I have never been posed this question and it gave me pause to reply with a thoughtful and helpful answer. All recommendation letters should include a personal reflection of how the writer knows the applicant. This can include knowledge of their work in their class or in their company. The best letters share a personal story that illustrates a positive character trait that the writer is seeking to convey. It is comforting to know that God does the same.
The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:2-3 (NLT)
The Apostle Paul wrote these beautiful words praising the faithful believers in the church in the city of Corinth. Paul was answering a group of false teachers who claimed that their teachings, and not Paul’s, were correct. To support their claims, his critics brought with them letters of recommendation from some of the church authorities in Jerusalem, vouching for their credentials. Paul answered their boastful claims and stated he did not need any letters of recommendation; the lives of the believers at Corinth were testimony that were following the true teachings of Jesus Christ and not false teachings created by man.
This is an excellent lesson for anyone writing and asking for a letter of recommendation. If the applicant’s character and lifestyle do not reflect the details in the letter, it is of no merit. The burden is upon both the writer to give an honest and insightful appraisal of what they know but the applicant must live it and continually display these qualities with their lives. As the old adage states, “You talk the talk, but do you walk the walk?”
Once again, God gives us the answers to life through faith and belief in Jesus Christ!
Love and trust in the Lord; seek His will in your life.