Saturday, April 16, 2005

Letter of Recomendation

Asking someone to write a letter of recommendation has always been a big deal for me. You are essentially asking someone to vouch on your behalf to total strangers. Your actions will reflect on their credibility. Some of my professors guard their right to recommend quite fiercely. The standard response if someone doesn't want to write you a letter is that "they don't know you that well," but I once I got a full on rejection. Since then I've been more careful with whom I request.

All of this took a sharp turn a few days ago when a former Senator asked me for a letter of recommendation for his application to the Peace Corp. Knowing him as I do, I felt he was a natural person for the job and would excel in that kind of environment. Little did I know what I was agreeing to.

The Peace Corp's online form presents the recommender with three options. One of which was "I do not feel qualified to recommend this individual," so that was out. That left me a set of form questions to respond to, or a drafted letter. I figured that the form questions would be more helpful to the Peace Corp than my own personal rantings. This option also had its failings, like a character limit of 250 per question!

But that's not what got me. What got me is how the questions brought out some of the reservations I felt about this individual. So I was faced with a choice: give the honest answer and possibly ruin his chances of getting in, or lie and just say great things. The question seemed worthy of a bit of cost/benefit analysis.

The Lie:
  • Better chances of the individual getting accepted (plus)
  • Personal disappointment with lying (minus)
  • No one would ever associated me with him, should he fail as a volunteer (plus)

  • The Truth:
  • Less chance of individual getting accepted (minus)
  • Personal feeling of good for telling the truth (plus)
  • No one would ever know that I was being completely honest (minus)

  • Based on that, it would seem I should lie. The only detriment to lying was a personal one, and the same went for the benefit to telling the truth. Is it worth my own personal satisfaction to jeopardize this individuals hope after they asked me to recommend them?

    In the end I resolved to tell the truth. Its not like I said anything awful about the person, and I did check "on the whole I recommend this person" (a step below "I recommend this person without reservation" and above "I do not recommend this person"). As an overarching rationale I believe the letter of recommendation says something about both the recommendee and the recommendor. Its a societal contract issue. I sincerely hope that all of the people who have recommended me over the years follow the same principle. I would hate to get a job because someone lied for me.

    3 comments:

    srcastic said...

    Seems like you made the right decision. If you cannot in good faith say something positive about the recomendee, you should let them know that, but you shouldn't go beyond what is an accurate description.

    Matt BB said...

    What I hate is when you ask someone to write you a letter of recomendation and they ask you to draft it for them. It always feels so foney.

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