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Reference hyper-inflation ?

March 19th, 2004

The phenomenon of recommendation letters for students being written by the student was discussed a few months back, but, as recommendation letters aren’t a big deal here in Australia, I didn’t pay much attention. Today, however, I met a new version of this. I got an email from someone in the US, previously unknown to me, attaching a CV and a draft recommendation letter, and asking me to sign it. I declined without reading the CV, and without formulating a precise reason. Has anyone else encountered this?

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  1. James Farrell
    March 19th, 2004 at 09:20 | #1

    You probably need to have achieved some degree of eminence before total strangers solicit references from you. On the other hand, on two occasions when I myself asked for references, one from a colleague and one from a former supervisor, they asked me to draft them myself. Their laziness disgusted me, but in the case of the supervisor I was a little relieved, as his writing ability was poor.

    I write a dozen reference letters a year for former students. My rules are: only mention what can be presented in a favourable light; don’t lie; only exaggerate slightly; and if you have nothing positive to say, don’t agree to do it at all. I always give the person a copy, even if it’s supposed to be confidential. Apart from their ostensible function, references are a good opportunity to praise and encourage people you’ve worked with, and there’s not enough of that in this world. Oral praise is good, but a well-crafted written reference costs time and effort, which the person appreciates.

  2. Factory
    March 19th, 2004 at 16:38 | #2

    From what I gather a Slashdot[1] thread, this practice is rather common in America.

    [1] I think that is where I’ve read it, I’m not too sure though.

  3. March 21st, 2004 at 15:47 | #3

    Factory, by “this practice” do you mean students drafting their own reference letters, or asking complete strangers to sign such letters?

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