Student internship guides

Reference Letters

Brown arrow 21 Written by Nathan Parcells on Nov 15, 2010

How to Get A Great Letter of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation can make or break your ability to get hired. Even if your qualifications are excellent, if your referrals are non existent or negative your chances of finding employment are slim. That said, there are several things you can do to help insure that good references follow your employment trail, and are accessible to potential employers.

  1. Identify the right references . If you have no work history or if you are asked for personal references, do not use family or peer group friends. If you feel that one of your parent’s friends knows you well you might consider using them.  Teachers, councilors, TAs and coaches could make strong personal references. But, don’t forget to ask them first.
  2. Always ask permission of the person you hope to use as a reference.Never just assume they will say yes. They may feel uncomfortable talking about you for reasons you may not even guess at. Some companies even have policies that prohibit their employees from saying anything but a confirmation of your employment and the dates of your employment.
  3. Help them out.You may want to list some skills, accomplishments or character traits that you think would apply and send the list to your references for their use. Also include the dates of your employment. Sometimes, people can be busy or distracted or forgetful and it is helpful for them to have a list in front of them when they write or talk about you. If they disagree with something you have put on the list, they can always leave it out.
  4. If possible, obtain a letter of recommendation before you leave your internship or job. You can ask for the referral during the all important exit interview or anytime before you leave.  What you don’t want is for your boss to move on from the company and disappear into the mist at some later date without a way for you to contact them.
  5. Conduct an exit interview. (See the section on how to conduct your exit).  The exit interview will be a good opportunity to go over the company’s expectations and how they were met or exceeded by your accomplishments. You, also, will have refreshed their memory about how wonderful you are so they can say some very nice things about you.
  6. Don’t burn any bridges upon leaving. If you want to leave recommendations for change then do so carefully and with tact.  Limit your discussion to issues that might make the next intern’s experience even better. Never, ever complain about any individual or incident, and make sure that you make any suggestions positive in tone and content.
  7. You might consider having your boss’s recommendations posted on Linkedin, a professional networking site, or on Facebook. Such a site allows you have the references for public view for all of posterity. If you don’t like what someone says about you, you can simply erase it.
  8. You do not need to say “references available upon request” on your resume or cover letter. Employers know they can ask for them.  If the references are available on Linkedin, however, you could mention that in your cover letter and supply the specific link to your specific reference page.
  9. Keep in touch.If you worked for a company that refuses to give a reference because it is against company policy, do not despair. It is often possible to contact an employee after they have left the company and get a reference then.  Make sure you keep up with your boss or colleagues so you know where and when to reach them.
  10. Don’t ask for references from someone who may give you a negative review. A negative review from a reference can look really bad.  This is someone you have hand selected as able to attest to your strong characteristics as a worker and a person.  Make sure your references are coming from someone you can trust, who has openly commended you in the past, and ideally someone who has willingly offered to be a reference
  11. Keep a list of five references handy so they can be quickly and easily emailed to a prospective employer. Most interviewers want a list of three but you don’t want anything held up if a reference is out of town or for some reason is unreachable. Include in the list:
  1. Their name
  2. Their position (and current position)
  3. The company  (and their current company, if they have left)
  4. Their professional relationship to you (ex. The person you reported to.)
  5. Their contact information…email and phone

Cover image provided by splorp under the Creative Commons license

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