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9 Tips for Letters of Recommendation

Author: Jojo Varona

Letters of recommendation are great to have while you are on a job search and for future use. Even if your qualifications are excellent, if your referrals are nonexistent or negative, it may hinder you in finding employment. That said, there are several things you can do to help ensure that good references follow your employment trail and are accessible to potential employers.

1. Identify the right references

If you are just right out of school and have little or no work history or if you are asked for personal references, do not use family or peer group friends. Teachers, counselors, TAs, and coaches could make strong personal references. If you have done volunteer work or have been active in clubs and events at school, a reference from a supervisor, club president, or a sponsoring administrative member would be good to have. 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”.

Don’t forget to ask if you can use someone as a reference. The person may feel uncomfortable talking about you for reasons you may never guess. 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. Make it easy for your references.

List your skills, accomplishments, or character traits that you think would apply to the job for which you are interviewing and send the list to your references for their use. Also, include the dates of your employment. Sometimes, your reference contact may be busy when they get the call to chat up your best qualities, and it’s easy for anyone to get distracted or to forget exact dates. It is helpful for them to have a list in front of them when they are writing or talking about you.

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 any time before you leave. You wouldn’t want your boss or supervisor to move on from the company and disappear into the mist at some later date without a way for you to contact them.

5. You might consider having your managers’ references posted on a professional networking site.

Such a site allows you to have the references for public view and for posterity. You can always delete it if you don’t like the reference or it no longer applies to your search.

6. Do not put “references available upon request” on your resume or cover letter.

Employers know they can ask for them and will just take up space.

7. 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.

8. Don’t ask for references from someone who may give you a negative review.

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

9. Keep a list of five references handy so they can be quickly and easily emailed to a prospective employer.

Most companies want a list of three, but you don’t want anything held up if a reference is not available 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

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