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When to ask your current employer for a rec. letter...


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I'm in a situation that I imagine a lot of you have been in. I'm working in a relevant field, and I want to ask one of my supervisors for a recommendation. I wanted to hear some of your experiences with asking current employers for rec letters, as it basically announces "I desperately hope to be quitting in 9 months! (but if grad school won't have me, can I stay here, pretty please?!)"

How have you gone about it? What kinds of reactions have you had? Have you gained any wisdom that you'd like to share?

I don't think that my bosses will be shocked to know I want to move on eventually - while my job is great on a day-to-day basis, it's essentially dead-end without an advanced degree. What also makes me nervous is that the person I'd be asking for a letter is not the person who hired me. I got the job (or at least the job interview) by networking with a close friend of the 'big boss', who is no way oversees my day-to-day work and with whom I have minimal interaction. I'm not sure what the protocol would be for letting the 'big boss' know myself because of the personal connection, or letting him hear from my supervisor/recommendation-writer...I don't want to inadvertently commit a faux pas.

Also, my office does not have the most professional environment, and I have seen how employees who have moved on have been retaliated against. People giving their two weeks' notice have been told to leave at the end of the day. (Although this generally happens when they leave for 'rival' organizations). Anyhow, I know you probably don't care about all these details, but I guess I'm just giving a little context to my anxiety.

I'm applying for public policy programs, by the way.

Edited by ridofme
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Hm, that's tricky. My organisation is very nice about these things and the occasional person does leave to go back to university. It really depends on how well you know your letter writer.

I have asked my manager whom I get on very well with. He's more than happy to write me a letter and he was glad that I gave him almost a year's notice of my potential departure.

I would personally give them plenty of notice, and ask them informally first if that's something they'd be willing to do. Phrase it like it's not a definite thing (which it isn't) - to lessen the impact. After all, you don't know if it will work out or not. I gave my manager a heads up in our last one-to-one a couple of months ago and told him that I'm thinking of applying. Later on, I confirmed that I was applying, gave him an idea of timescales and so on.

Mention it to your big boss only once you have an offer in hand, and ask your letter writer to be discrete if you think it might cause friction in your workplace.

Don't worry about 'retaliation' as such - although you might worry about getting a bad letter of recommendation. Again, it depends on your relationship with your letter writer.

Also, it's worth preparing some sort of briefing for your writer - especially if they've never done it before. These links were helpful in guiding my writers:





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I did that just yesterday. I work for a city government with a somewhat unhealthy work environment. I have like 5 middle managers below the primary manager. I want my letter to be from the primary and am hoping that several of the middle managers don't retaliate if they find out I'm having communications outside of the normal work channels. They're normally afraid of the primary manager because he holds them accountable for their screw-ups and they try to keep him in the dark (bad strategy). I'm probably not leaving entirely even if I am admitted and made clear that I am enjoying my work will continue to work for the city in at least the near future.


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  • 3 weeks later...

I can be easier if you first break your interest in graduate school by casually asking them about their history or asking them for advice on schools. That's the way I let my boss' boss know, and now she's EAGER to help me school search. Oddly enough, she doesn't see me or work directly with me. So she just knows my work through the mounds of paperwork with my name on it!

By talking about the schools and programs, it also lets them know more information about your goals, etc for in the letter itself and helps them see how your current position has helped. Granted, I haven't told her my interest in moving away from the company and work specifically with kids. I just gloss over whether I'm leaving my job if I take classes... or after earning the degree. Only my direct boss knows that.

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