JET Tips: The Question of Recommendation Letters

With JET applications open, it’s time to get to writing AND contacting people to write those recommendation letters for you!

Pardon any typos and messy formatting, I’m on my phone.

Again, I’m no expert. This list just contains some tips based on some of my own failures and successes over the years

1. Ask for letters sooner rather than later

Just like you need time to work on that SOP essay to tweak it to its best form, so do your recommenders need time to work out the best sales pitch for you

This is especially true if you’re asking someone who is a professor and/or someone with a full-time job. They’re going to be busy and you want to give them enough time to work something out. Some people might say they can’t write a letter if you don’t give them enough time (I’ve seen it happen) so don’t let that be you!

I also recommend sitting down with this person and talking about the program, letting them know why you want to do it, for how long, really, as many details as you can give. The more they know, the more details they can put into the recommendation letter. This also takes time since you then would need to have a meeting with them (if they can’t see you on the fly)

Of course, you won’t know what they write in the letter but this way you know you did as much as you could have to get a good letter!

2. Read the requirements

Recently, I had someone ask me to write them a letter but after some looking, we realized I didn’t qualify for the task. Sadly. I think it would have been something fun to do!

So, for starters, make sure to read the requirements. Usually, the people that can write letters, or would be better candidates, are people with supervisor and/or manager positions. Or professors, who are also on the same level since they supervise your work at an academic level. I believe for JET, if you’re still in school, one of your letters has to be from a professor, but don’t quote me on this.

Likewise, if the directions say to submit two recommendations, ONLY submit two. I don’t think it would even allow you to submit more, assuming your application is digital. I know that with mine, I had to submit the emails of my recommenders, and then they got a special link where they dropped their letter. I did nothing but wait and hope all went well.

So again, read the instructions and only submit what they ask for.

3. Ask someone who knows you well

Try to ask someone who knows you well. The first time I applied I didn’t follow my own advice. Not only did I very last minute ask for a recommendation, but I also asked someone who only “sort of” knew me. It makes sense I didn’t get in really. I really self-sabotaged myself

What does it mean, someone who knows you well? If you have a professor who you took multiple courses with, that you met during office hours on multiple occasions, who has expressed interest in your work and future career, that you have kept in touch with – these are the professors I’d ask. They have seen your work develop in time and/or know you on more than just a submission paper level

Similarly, if you have a supervisor and/or manager that you talk with on both a professional and personal level, they may also be what you need. I believe you’ll just know. And if you don’t, then maybe that’s a sign that you really need to start engaging more with people of authority (which, wow, I dislike doing but sometimes it’s necessary)

This person should also ideally be someone you’ve known for at least a few months. Personally, I feel like someone you’ve worked with closely for at least a year would be best. In a year, I think we generally get a good feel for people

4. Who qualifies as a recommender?

So I wasn’t going to put this into this post, but I saw a lot of people asking this, so I thought I’d drop some thoughts on the matter. Again, don’t quote me on anything. I’m just as confused about the process (it’s all so hush-hush)

If you’re still in school, I believe JET requires that one of your recommenders has to be a professor, but what about the second letter? Or if you’re not a student, who do you ask? If you’re working, I always recommend a supervisor or manager, but never a friend, family member, or coworker on the same level as you. It should always be someone who is in a higher position than you

One specific example that I saw was, what if the to-be JET is a tutor? Can they ask their student to recommend them? Personally, I don’t think that would work. One, the student is in a lower position, and two, I feel like they wouldn’t have the experience to write a letter. More on that in the next point, but really, it just doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to say it sounds like bribery but it has a bit of that same feeling (if you ask me)

But what if your student is older? I think this is where we can start to see some exceptions. For example, what if you are a tutor to a professor or company boss? I think these people would work as recommenders because they’re moreso your employers (than your students) and they hold managerial positions. If you’ve worked with them a decent amount of time, I’d say this would work. Likewise, if your student is younger, perhaps you could ask their parent to write you a letter. Assuming you think they can write a good letter.

I would even say that someone that you’ve worked with for projects, hobbies, volunteer work, it would all count. It just depends on who you ask in the organization or group (and their role), how well you think they can write a letter, and how you can twist your experience to your favor.

So really, it all depends.

5. Can they write a good recommendation?

Another thing to do is to ask someone who you feel can write a good (great) letter. I feel like if the person is a professor, the chances of this being a problem are less since they’ll be used to writing and (most likely) writing letters of recommendation. It comes with the job description. But be careful, some just aren’t recommender material (as I learned the hard way)

As for non-professors, really evaluate. Think about the type of job they hold. Do they write professionally often? How do they speak? Are they very to the point or do they elaborate? I’d always go for someone who does a little more talking and has enthusiasm because I feel like their feelings will come through (and they may not run out of words as quickly as others, in fact, they may be able to be more specific). Obviously, this isn’t always the case, but unless you know something more about your quiet boss, I’d say go for the “better option”

You really only have one chance

Also, regardless of who you ask, ask yourself, are they good at time management? Even if you give them plenty of notice, it won’t matter if they leave it for last minute

6. Be on top of things

I had a really bad experience with someone I asked to write me a letter. I visited this person often and they guaranteed they’d have it on time. They did not. Since then I’ve been so on top of things, I’m sure other recommenders find me annoying

No, I don’t email people every day about letters, but maybe around two weeks before the deadline, I’ll start to ask, hey so about that letter… Often I’ll also stop by in person so that people know that this is really important to me

And if it’s that last week and I still see the recommendation letter status as incomplete…I get more persistent. These are things that are important to me (to us) so it’s just my way to try and make sure things get done

You can’t really control what others end up doing, which always makes this part of the process scary in its own way!

Those were some of the big ones I could think of. Good luck everyone. I believe applications close this month?

p.s. These tips are for people who want to be ALTs

– G

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