How to be Successful: Be Constructive

Do you know or work with someone who is negative?  What, exactly, makes them negative? The description from a Podcast a Vet episode with Dr. Krull comes to mind, “Come in pretty grumpy, pissed that I either had a client, pissed I didn’t have a client.  I don’t wanna see that client, there was a walk-in, what the hell are they doing here? Everything had a negative perspective on it.”  She describes how that infected the staff and made everyone miserable. Do you want to be miserable? I doubt it. So this article is how to avoid bringing misery wherever you go, and the key I think is this: be constructive.

Being constructive means bringing something useful into a situation.  One of my favorite Cracked articles talks about someone bleeding on the street and what you bring to that situation.  Are you able to operate effectively? Maybe you could go get help. Or do you stand there and offer platitudes?  Do you critique the person operating, “Oh, they’re making a mess of it!” You want to be the person that brings something useful and meaningful to the situation.

I have been in countless meetings which had a specific problem to solve and ended up being largely gripe sessions.  People continue to harp on the problem and aspects of the problem or their own personal experience with the problem.  This CAN be useful if you’re trying to identify the problem. But once a problem has been defined, the next step is a SOLUTION, not present more information about the problem.

I can almost guarantee that you contribute to the griping during a meeting.  It’s human nature- we want to share our stories and our struggles. It requires an active effort to not join in a gripe session and instead offer solutions.  However, the people who do offer solutions are clearly the leaders. They are the ones who will be most successful. Whenever I am in charge of a meeting, I always value the people who offer constructive solutions and am annoyed at the people who just gripe and get us off course.  I have a goal in mind- help me get to that goal!

Here is my challenge to you: the next time you are in a meeting, observe who primarily complains and who puts forward solutions.  I can almost guarantee the solution-oriented people are the leaders, the ones who are well-regarded, and the ones who are more successful.

Oddly, this is one of the most obvious divides I have noticed in doctors versus support staff and professional staff.  The support staff gripe about a situation first and foremost. They may eventually come up with solutions, but it isn’t the default approach and only comes after everyone has had their say about what they don’t like.  Doctors also gripe, but not everyone contributes to the griping and some people talk about what can be done after they are done griping.

As a veterinarian, a professional, you are a leader.  You will be a leader to students, or to technical staff, or to your community.  Good leaders bring solutions, not problems. You want to bring solutions. What can be done to make things better?  Focus on being constructive and you will be more successful.

Podcast Episode #3 – Dr. Clara Moran

Dr. Moran is a board-certified veterinary surgeon whom I worked with when she was a vet student. She did a really great summer research project with me and I wrote letters of recommendation for her. She shares how to be successful in your career, particularly for those interested in surgery.

Podcast Episode #2 – Dr. Stephanie Shaver

Dr. Shaver is a board-certified veterinary surgeon whom I worked with initially when she was an intern. We published a case report together at that time. Recently, I was the department chair where she worked and was her supervisor. We conducted numerous research studies together and continue to work together. She provides you with insight into the world of veterinary surgery.

The Faculty Interview Presentation

This is it, the Big One.  Probably the most important hour you spend during your interview, possibly the single most important determinant of you getting a job as a faculty member.  The letter of application and CV just get you in the door and your references just prove you’re not a monster. The decision to hire a faculty member is made at the interview.  And no single hour is as important as your presentation.

As a result, the presentation has to do a lot of heavy lifting.  Let’s go over the goals of the presentation:

  1. Demonstrate you are a competent teacher.  Unless you are applying for a research-only position, this will go from a small variable (an administrative position) to a large variable (lecturer position).  You have to demonstrate you are AT LEAST competent, if not stellar. As usual, make sure to Aim for Zero. Remember how easy it is to hit -1 while aiming for +1.
  2. Demonstrate you are a competent researcher.  Unless you are applying for a teaching-only position, this will go from a small variable (administrative position, clinical-track) to a large variable (tenure track).  As with teaching, you have to be AT LEAST competent.
  3. Demonstrate confidence.  For better or worse, our culture places a heavy emphasis on confidence and the belief that confidence = competence.  Some people know better, but sadly the reality is that people like confidence. If you don’t project AT LEAST a basal level of confidence, attendees will assume you are not competent.
  4. Demonstrate communication skills.  You need to be able to communicate in any veterinary job.  You need to demonstrate that you can do this basic skill.
  5. Show you are the best candidate.  For some attendees, this will be the only contact they have with you.  Take the time to share how you are unique and interesting as a professional and why you are interested in this position.

Those are the goals, how do we get there?

1) Competent Teacher can be broken down into three domains: content, delivery, and engagement.

CONTENT

Your content needs to be accessible enough that the average veterinarian- regardless of their specialty- can follow along.  If the content is esoteric, that’s fine, you just need to present enough information in the introduction so that everyone understands your content.  I strongly advise you to deliver your presentation to non-content-specialist friends of yours to see if they can follow along. When in doubt, make it simple, then make it a little simpler.

Content also includes your slides.  The purpose of your slides is to present visual information and to remind you what you want to talk about.  There should be no more than 5 lines of text. There should be good contrast between background and text. I’ve heard design specialists advocate a white background and black text.  Have a relevant image with your text if at all possible. DO NOT READ YOUR SLIDES. Don’t include lengthy quotes. Don’t use smaller than 24 point font. Don’t use weird fonts.

Some institutions want you to present on a topic of your choice (often, but not always, your research) as well as spend some time presenting your teaching philosophy.  When choosing your topic, if it is your research project, make sure you understand and convey why you did it and what the next steps are. Coming out of a residency, your major project may form the basis for your early faculty work.  If you don’t choose to present a research project, make sure you know the topic better than anyone else in the room and that it is interesting and engaging for the audience. Two non-research topics I present on include Motivation (emphasizing self-determination theory) and Medical Error.  I have a strong psychology and sociology background, making it unlikely any veterinarian attendees know more than I do about Motivation, and I have read all the important works and published some of the first studies in veterinary medicine about Medical Error. While I present myself as a (relative to veterinarians!) content expert, I also ensure my presentation is accessible to non-experts.

For the teaching philosophy component, do some research if you have never thought about it before.  In half of the new faculty presentations I attend, the presenter says, “I honestly never thought about my teaching philosophy until asked to talk about it at this presentation!”  While honesty can be disarming and make a connection with the attendees, I always found this a little off-putting. I don’t expect new faculty to know the ins and outs of social learning theory, but I do want them to have some deliberate, intentional ideas in their approach to teaching students.  I like to hear things like “engagement”, “practical”, and “active learning.” But different attendees will have different feelings about this, so present it as authentic to yourself.

DELIVERY

The delivery doesn’t have to be perfect- particularly if you are just finishing a residency and don’t have much lecture experience- but the better you can deliver, the better impression you will make.  Speak slowly and deliberately. Enunciate. Find filler words in your routine delivery and excise them from your vocabulary. Change your pacing. Include pauses and silence. Watch this TED video.  Then watch it again.  Then practice. Then watch it again.  Practice practice practice. Video record yourself delivering your presentation.  Have students, house officers, friends- anyone available watch you give your presentation and solicit their feedback.  Those who give TED talks say you have two options: 1) know the content so completely you can wing the whole thing or 2) memorize your talk.  You probably can’t pull off #1, so aim for #2. Memorizing the whole presentation may be a bit much, but have it down very very well.

ENGAGEMENT

Engagement is critical in any lecture encounter- you don’t want attendees bored or, worse, taking naps.  They are evaluating you as a teacher- teachers engage their students. I make a goal, “I want the attendees to understand this concept.  I want to TEACH them something new.” Your goal isn’t just to get up there and present, you want attendees to walk away with new, ideally interesting, knowledge.  

One effective way I saw this done was an interview presentation about pulse oximetry.  The interviewee paused several times to engage the audience in a discussion or question/answer.  This can be very difficult to pull off because faculty attendees are notoriously difficult to engage.  An even better approach was someone who handed out three cards when people walked in the door- a blue, silver, and gold one.  At various points during the presentation, she introduced a 3-option multiple choice question and asked people to raise the color card associated with their guess as to the answer.  Everyone loved that presentation and the applicant got the job.  

My personal preference is to use an anonymous polling system, such as Pollev.  I will solicit ideas from the audience at various points as well as check their understanding at the end of the presentation to confirm they learned what I was hoping to teach.  You can provide the same multiple-choice question at the end and at the beginning to compare responses. I usually create a free choice answer and, as the answers come up which indicate learning, I highlight those.  People can use their phone to respond anonymously so it is a very easy, low-barrier approach to participation.

Engagement can be facilitated by verbal delivery, but it can also be facilitated with nonverbals and movement.  Don’t just stand behind the podium. Get out from behind it and talk to people as actual humans rather than viewers at a movie.  Use visual aids. Pass around handouts. Have short videos in your talk to emphasize important points. Go to the whiteboard for part of your talk.  You want to vary the delivery to help create and maintain engagement without appearing to be disjointed or all over the place.

2) Competent Researcher can be difficult to demonstrate during a presentation but can be broken down into three domains: collaboration, curiosity, and future potential.  

COLLABORATION

Discuss the process you went through to get your project idea or get it going.  If you were just handed a project on a silver latter, which required you to talk to no one or discuss a plan, that’s no good.  You want to explain the discussions you had with your mentors, collecting feedback on your methods, and what others contributed to the process.  As always, you want to demonstrate humility- you didn’t do this project alone, talk about what others brought to the process.

CURIOSITY

If you are interviewing for a job with anything but a small research FTE (i.e. >10% research FTE), the attendees want to know that you are interested in research.  Fundamentally, research is amazing because we are curious about the world and want to answer questions in a systematic, objective, and meaningful way. What did you learn in the process, what surprised you, what intrigued you?  How did it relate to what other researchers have found? What was interesting about this project idea to begin with?

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Unless you are applying for a clinical track position, the research you are presenting should not be an end, it should be a beginning.  What questions were you left with at the end of the project that you would like to answer? What is the next step? If your research has gone in a slightly different direction from this project, talk about future ideas and what is exciting to you to move to next.  I have to admit I don’t do this anymore, because I let my CV speak for itself when it comes to my research potential. But most new faculty need to make sure the attendees know they aren’t a one-trick pony.

3) Confidence is demonstrated by posture, practice, delivery, answering questions, and general approach.  If you are worried about seeming confident, watch this incredible TED talk.  The more practice you have and the better you know your presentation, the more confident you will be.  When answering questions, be declarative but willing to hear different ideas and acknowledge that you don’t know it all.  There’s a narrow line between confidence and arrogance. A confident person is secure in who they are and what they know, but want to learn more and are willing to accept feedback and other ideas.  An arrogant person is insecure and covers it by crushing any ideas not their own. Make eye contact with the attendees during your talk. Smile. Try not to fidget. Cut filler words out of your presentation.

4) Communication Skills are demonstrated by how you greet the attendees, how you interact before and after the presentation (for example, the search committee chair or department chair will often chit-chat with you as people are filing in), how you answer questions, your delivery, and evidence in the content of your presentation that you work well with others, communicate with them, and understand them.

5) Show you are the best candidate by introducing yourself a little bit.  Don’t tell your life story, but hit the highlights of your CV- where you went to school and your subsequent training.  Talk about what interested you most throughout your training, mentors whose approach to medicine Spoke to you, and why you chose your research topic.  Also, share your interest in the position- what about this institution is most intriguing to you? What connection do you have with the institution- such as personal experience at the institution, connections, and knowledge of prominent faculty or programs.  This doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be a 10-minute-long introduction, but a slide or two with some appropriate pictures on each of these points will help you connect with the audience and convince them you are genuinely interested in the position. See posts about what to say in an interview for more on this.

This is the longest blog post I have written for The Vetducator, and I put it off for a while.  The faculty interview presentation is a daunting task. It requires a significant amount of work to do well.  You can’t phone this in. I have seen positions with only one applicant where the search committee did not recommend them because of a terrible presentation.  I have seen numerous presentations where the applicant phoned it in and I thought, “Are they only interviewing to get an offer and then use that to get a retention offer from their current institution?”  Do a good presentation and the job is yours. If you need help, reach out to me.

Podcast Episode #1: Dr. Ben Dawkins

Dr. Dawkins is not a veterinarian, but he has been working in HR at a major retail corporate store for years, is a good friend, and is a good interviewee. I thought his advice would be helpful, and an easy way for me to start podcasting. Enjoy!

How to Be Successful: Be Optimistic

I started reading a blog called Mr. Money Mustache in 2018.  To say it changed my life is an understatement, but one of the things I like most about it is his near-compulsive optimism.  It’s inspiring, it’s infectious, and it’s clearly led him to success.  Once I started to think about it and look around, I noticed that the most successful people I know are optimistic.  So I will pass this advice on to you: be optimistic.

Optimism is inspiring.  Which leader do you want to follow: the one who says they will make things better, or the one who speaks doom and gloom?  Sure, fear sells, but not as well as hope. I want to follow the leader who gives hope and optimism.

Optimism is infectious.  Fear and doom and gloom are infectious, too.  But, again, which would you rather surround yourself with?  If you are optimistic, you can share that with others and boost the whole mood of any group with which you work.  If you are positive and excited, that will spread and make everything better.

Optimism makes you feel better.  This is obviously mental, but mental health and positive mental attitude can translate into better physical health.  You can’t imagine away your depression or a broken bone, but your mind is powerful. Just look at the placebo effect.  If I could ask my doctor to give me a placebo without me knowing it, that would be fantastic. Your mind shapes your reality.

Optimism will help you stand out.  I don’t want you to aim for +1- always aim for zero.  But if you aim for zero while being optimistic, you will be perceived as a positive influence.  These are the people I want to work with and work for. You will make a better impression, make strong personal connections, and propel your career towards more success.

I used to be fairly cynical.  I was very much a glass-is-half-empty sort of person.  I guess I was fine to be around- I had friends and everything.  But I was generally morose. After changing my perspective to be more positive and optimistic, I still have friends, but I am generally upbeat.  Trust me, it’s a much better way to live, and I think people like working with me more now than then.

How to Reach Out to Potential Research Mentors

You’ve decided that you’d like to try out research.  Great! It could be a lot of fun. You’ve thought about how to choose a research mentor.  You know some options for contacting a mentor. Now you need to actually draft an email. When I used to teach an undergraduate Introduction to Clinical Research class, this was one of the assignments I had the students do.  I was often surprised that their emails needed editing and improvement. On that basis, I wanted to provide you some example emails to inspire you to write a good email to reach out to a research mentor. They are below, with some commentary.

Hello Dr. X,

You recently spoke in my seminar led by Dr. Y.  My name is Bob Smith and I am a sophomore Genetics major. We have discussed PAX6 mutations in several of my genetics classes at length, and I found your presentation very interesting. I was wondering if you are interested in talking to me about the potential to be involved in any of your research projects.  I would love to talk to you about how to get involved if you have the time. I look forward to hearing from you,

Sincerely,

Bob Smith

Analysis: I like this because it creates a connection- this isn’t a cold email, there is some relationship, however tenuous.  It also creates context- where might this faculty know this student? It relates a salient detail- the PAX6 mutation which was discussed during the seminar.  And it creates an opportunity for the faculty to respond. The closing encourages a faculty to respond, even if that response is “Sorry I am too busy” rather than ignore the email.

Dear Dr. X,

I am contacting you with the prospect of you becoming my faculty mentor and researching with me.  I am very interested in the work your lab has done so far in searching for inhibitors to couteract and halt the metabolic processes of the parasites <example>.  I have lab experience both at the University of Wherever and back in my hometown ThisCitgy, AA. I feel I would do well working in your lab and am eager to learn.  Attatched is my resume and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Thank you,

Cindy Smith

Analysis: This is a less good example.  It’s good because it includes a specific example and mentions their lab experience.  There are a couple of typos, which is distracting. I also find the first sentence a little off-putting: that the faculty will do research with the student, rather than the student work with the faculty.  It’s subtle, but I can imagine some readers being vaguely irritated.

Hello Professor X,

My name is Ana Smith, and I’m a 2nd year undergraduate student in the College of Public Health at Unseen University. I was recently browsing the X web page and came across your lab. I was really intrigued by the work you are doing on Subject X. I’m really interested in learning more about working in a lab, and am hoping to take advantage of my time here at a prominent research institution. I intend to apply to work with the Center for Undergraduate Research here, and I would like the opportunity to ask you some questions pertaining to your research. I am available from 9:00 am – 12:00 pm every weekday morning.  Please let me know if you are available to meet with me sometime in the next two weeks.

Have a great day!

Thank you,

Ana Smith

Unseen University Class of 2022

College of Public Health

anasmith@unseenuniversity.edy

310-555-1234

Analysis: This is probably my favorite example.  It provides a brief introduction to the student and why they are interested in that faculty’s research, although more detail would be good if available.  Providing some times make it easier for the faculty to reply with, “Great, let’s meet Monday at 10am”. Providing contact info, including email and phone number, is also good.

So those are some examples.  If you have some sample emails you’d like reviewed, post them in the comments!

Why Are You Afraid to Ask for a Letter of Recommendation or Help?

A theme we have encountered before is individuals unable or unwilling to ask mentors for letters of recommendation or for help with their professional progression.  This is evidently true for so many applicants because I STILL get applications that are just Not Good. The applications clearly haven’t been vetted by a mentor. Why in the world not?  I don’t know exactly, but I have some theories.

  1. You don’t believe you need help.  You are wrong. This is the illusion of confidence- you are not good at evaluating your competence until you become an expert (AKA Dunning-Kruger Effect).  You need help, please seek it.
  2. You think the mentor will judge you.  You are afraid that the way you ask may make the mentor think less of you.  Or you believe asking for help indicates you are less competent, so they will think you are less competent.  I won’t say this never happens. But the mentors who do this are not RFHBs. Any mentor worth the title WANTS to help their mentees.  Sure, if you ask them on the eve of a due date instead of two months before the due date, they may be irritated and more likely to judge you.  So… don’t do that. Give them plenty of time, give them all the information, ask humbly and respectfully, and you should get a positive response.  If you get a negative response given all of these conditions, the problem is with THEM. Be grateful you figured out this mentor was not an RFHB and drop them like a hot potato.
  3. You have social anxiety.  I get it, talking to people is hard.  Fortunately, we have this amazing invention called The Internet!  No longer do you have to crash a professor’s office or even call them.  In fact, for a significant majority, email is by far the preferred means of communication.  So just reach out by email
  4. You’re afraid of what they will say.  You are worried that you will not get a good letter of recommendation, or they will be critical in their feedback when you ask for help.  That is a fair concern. Unfortunately, in this world, you get what you ask for. If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it. You can work as hard as you can and be a great person, but you may still get unconstructive criticism.  This is a risk inherent in life. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.” If this dramatically limits your life success, you probably should seek out professional mental health assistance. Taking feedback effectively is an extremely valuable life skill.
  5. You feel like a burden or that you are undeserving of a letter or help.  I understand some faculty and mentors can give you the impression that they don’t care or that you are overworking them or stressing them out.  Some of those are genuinely curmudgeons and are not worthy of your time. Some of them are softies creating a tough external facade. However, the vast vast majority of mentors WANT to help.  Particularly faculty in veterinary medicine- we are almost all here because we love teaching. Please give us the opportunity to help.
  6. It seems like more work than it’s worth.  Particularly if approaching someone is already hard, you may feel that you’ll go to an easier-to-approach person (like the vet you worked with when you were a high school student instead of the professor you worked with last year).  You figure you’ll just handle writing your application yourself without bothering anyone. I understand that impulse, but you will never be as good as you are when others are helping you. Ask any successful person- no one goes it alone.
  7. You’ve tried in the past and it hasn’t gone well.  Maybe you reached out and even got snapped at, “You think I have time to help you!?!”  Successful people get knocked down and get back up. No one who has been successful hasn’t failed.  The question is: what are you going to do about it? Are you going to stay down, or are you going to get back on your feet and try again?  If you want to be successful, work on putting the past behind you and focus on where you want to go and what you need to do.

Those are the reasons my editors and I can think of which impede people from seeking help and being comfortable asking for letters of recommendation.  I understand them but, at the end of the day, I think each of these is absolutely unhelpful for your professional success. Ideally, you will develop a realistic sense of your capabilities, be positive, take criticism well, and ignore others when they hurt you emotionally.  This is my suggested path, but I realize there are other paths which may be equally effective. If you have walked a different path to success, share it in the comments!

The Timeline for Residency Starts in Vet School

When should you start preparing to apply for a residency?  When in the year do you need to have different steps completed?  How can you use your time most efficiently to maximize your chances of success?  I want to address all of these questions and more, so let’s dive in!

A theme that comes up time and again for those who choose residents is that it all comes down to personal relationships.  Specialists call their friends at different institutions to ask about applicants. The applicants who get positions aren’t necessarily the most qualified, they’re the one who is the most ‘known quantity’ because they had some mentors and supervisors ‘vouch’ for them.  So, you need to focus on personal relationships as well as academics. Here’s my suggested timeline for those interested in residency to develop those personal relationships and other factors:

Vet School Years 1-2: Find a research mentor, preferably a clinical one, preferably one in your discipline of interest.  Do a research project, preferably one which leads to a publication on which you are an author, preferably one which leads to a publication with you as the first author.  Do well enough in classes so that you are in the top third of your class.

Vet School Year 3: Learn what you can about clinical practice.  Strengthen your medical knowledge foundation so you can impress people during clinics.

Vet School Year 4: Do a great job on clinics.  Work hard on _all_ your rotations, not just the ones in your discipline of interest.  Do externships at institutions with specialists in the field in which you are interested, so that more people get to see you do a great job.  Submit for publication any research you have before the internship application deadline. See the advice for the internship application timeline and follow it.  Apply for internships that have several board-certified specialists in your field of interest.  For some specialties (e.g. ophthalmology), going to the conference for the specialty may be helpful.

Internship: If at all possible, do externships at other institutions with specialists in your discipline.  Work hard with _all_ the specialists, not just the ones in your discipline of interest. Follow the same VIRMP timeline advice as for interns.

Specialty Internship: If you did not match for a residency the first time around, but are doing a specialty internship, continue to do a good job on clinics.  Try to get a research project up and running and, ideally, submitted for publication before the match. Some specialty internships may allow/encourage you to go to the specialty conference.

You have to work hard on _all_ your rotations because you can absolutely bet that the dermatology residency to which you are applying will call the surgeon at your current institution whom they worked with during their own residency to ask about your performance.

This is a high-level overview of the residency path.  There are many who have walked different paths and have been successful.  This isn’t the only way. But I believe, in this highly competitive environment, this is the most likely to lead to success.

What Should a Letter of Recommendation Say?

I have already advised you to make sure you ask for a GOOD letter of recommendation.  The problem is, you usually can’t see the letter before it is submitted, so it’s impossible to know if it is good or not.  Nonetheless, there are some features of letters of recommendation that you want to make sure get included. Let’s review those features, then discuss how you can maybe make sure they get included in your letters.

  1. Competence.  No one wants to take an incompetent student as an intern and go through the work of training them up.  Students entering vet school are assumed to be incompetent as veterinarians- that’s why they’re going to vet school.  But they should be at least competent students- able to study, learn information, and pass assessments.
  2. Hard working.  No one wants to work with a lazy person.  No. One.
  3. Pleasant/Positive/Easy to Work With.  As I’ve mentioned before, you don’t have to be a bubbly happy always-on perfect extrovert.  But you DO have to make sure your letter writers LIKE working with you and will tell others they did so.  No one wants to work with someone who’s difficult to work with.
  4. Teachable.  If you are applying for a training program, being open to being taught is absolutely essential.  You want letter writers to make it clear you are eager to learn and willing to learn. Students who are resistant to being taught are very frustrating to work with.  Sometimes letter writers include intelligence in this domain. I think that’s fine, but I’ve known plenty of smart people who KNOW they are smart; consequently they believe they have nothing to learn.  Being smart is not sufficient.

These are the features I look for and believe are important.  Others may differ- evaluators are a highly heterogenous group.  But I believe you can’t go wrong having a recommendation letter say you are good at these things.  So, this is what you want on your letter. How do you make sure these elements are included? Here are two strategies, with their benefits and pitfalls specified.

  1. Ask the letter writer to mention something specific.  This is particularly helpful if the letter writer does not do a lot of letters of recommendation– for example the general practice vet you worked for.  You may be able to ask for 1-2 specific items. You can phrase this as, “For this program, they are particularly interested in my ability to follow through and take orders positively.”  A more general ask may be, “I’d particularly appreciate if you can comment on my work ethic and how I am to work with.” The benefit of this approach is that you are much more likely to have it included if you ask for it.  The pitfalls are two-fold. One, you may offend the letter writer. Two, they may do as you ask, but you may not be a very hard worker, so they may include that when they otherwise wouldn’t have.
  2. Be amazing.  Look, if you want to get a letter of recommendation where they say you work hard, it’s simple: WORK HARD.  Follow all the suggestions in the How to Be Successful Series. Be the hardest, best, most competent person out there, so you KNOW your letter writers will see and acknowledge those qualities.

So, that’s what you want people to write and a couple suggestions on how to get them to write it.  What do you think? Anything else that should be added?