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Best Practices for Letters of Recommendation for your Online Teaching Job Application

Best Practices for Letters of Recommendation for your Online Teaching Job Application

by Dani Babb
May 23, 2014

By now, you have probably realized that having all of your documents ready to go for online teaching job applications will make the process more efficient and less painful. Many of the online apps can take hours to fill out; the more information you have contained in organized folder the less painful the process will be. Even jobs that require sending a simple email off to a Dean or Human Resources often require numerous attachments, including your CV, unofficial transcripts and often, letters of recommendation. Last week I discussed Writing an Online Teaching Jobs Philosophy Statement, this week I will discuss the letter of reccomendation.  Usually 3 letters of reccomendation are required in an online job application.


In the past several months, letters of recommendation have become a common request in job applications. Human Resources, recruiters, screeners, department chairs and Dean's want to see who is recommending you and what they have to say about your work ethic, your communication in the classroom, your engagement, and your capability to teach. Many candidates simply get letters of recommendation from colleagues, add them to their file and move on. For others, the letters of recommendation can be the most difficult part of the application process due to limited experience in higher education, fear of asking someone for a recommendation letter, not knowing what to include or who to ask. I will address each of these components separately and help demystify it a bit.

If you have no formal teaching experience, were there times that you trained others in a professional setting? Can a boss or a colleague speak to your interest in training others, patience, willingness to help others and your capability? If so, this can be a good recommendation source. If you have not taught and have not professionally trained others, you can still ask colleagues who have seen you work on projects, worked with you on a team or know about your desire and interest to teach. You may also wish to approach former teachers or professors that you took courses with (but note that some schools do not allow professors to write letters and professors are often inundated with these requests). You may also want to contact colleagues in the teaching forums that we host who you have established a rapport with and exchange letters to help one another out. The last resort are acquaintances who may be familiar with your work or friends who can speak to your professionalism and interest in teaching.

If you are having a hard time approaching someone to ask for a letter of recommendation, I strongly suggest a simply worded email. This is an example:

Dear John,

As you may know, I have a strong interest in educating others and teaching adults in an online classroom. I am wondering if you would not mind writing a letter of recommendation for me identifying my areas of strength and recommending me for such a position. If you would like and it would make the request less difficult, I would be glad to provide an outline and you could add or remove elements you feel are accurate. I would be glad to repay the favor anytime.

Sincerely, Mary.

An email worded like the above allows the person you are asking to either take the initiative to write the letter, or have you essentially send them a draft for review and editing. If they take the initiative, great! If they ask you to send them a draft, I recommend keeping it simple and generic (see why after the letter!):

To Whom It May Concern, Mary is applying for a position at your university to teach business. I am writing this letter of recommendation on Mary's behalf to share my experiences and recommend Mary for the position.

I have known Mary since 2004. We first worked together at <institution/company>. Mary and I worked together on. Mary displayed strong professionalism, team loyalty, patience with others, a desire to share her knowledge with other team members and.

Being an educator requires <>. I believe that Mary embodies these characteristics and recommend her for a teaching position at your institution.

Should you wish to contact me, you may do so anytime at or.


You will probably notice a few elements in here. First, I did not put a date! That is important unless the person recommending you is giving you permission to update the date (and a Word file to do it) as needed. Second, you will notice that I have written this in a "timeless" fashion. Rather than stating "I have known Mary for 10 years", I wrote "I have known Mary since 2004." This removes elements that would become dated and would need to be modified in the future. I also included both a phone number and email address. People sometimes change one or the other. Allowing both methods of communication also removes the possibility of the letter becoming useless in the future. You may also notice that I did not specify a university or even a particular position. If you teach in multiple disciplines I would note "for a teaching position at your institution." The less specific you are, the more easily you can use the letter at other institutions you want to apply to.

Something to take note of here: Be sure to get the full contact information of the person recommending you! Many job applications will require the full address and phone number of the person recommending you in the online application. This will save you from having to send another email.

After the person sends the letter, I recommend using a free tool to convert the file to PDF. This helps avoid formatting issues and makes uploading easier.

I know it can be tough to ask for letters of recommendation but they are a critical part to your teaching toolkit. Check back next week for more information in my series of articles on getting your very first teaching job, if you find this series valuable be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to make sure you do not miss any posts. I will talk about what to expect when you are asked to interview for a teaching job!