Recommendation letters are often required for internships, grad school programs, scholarships, and even full-time jobs; and while the candidate does not have to actually write the letter, they still need to put in the work to support those who will be to ensure that they final product truly represents their skills. Today, we wanted to share some advice for the recommendation letter process so you can add some glowing testimonials to your next application.
When you need a recommendation letter, the first step is to decide who you want to ask. If you are asking a professor try to choose one who is familiar with your work and has a connection with you beyond the class, for example, someone you frequently go to see at office hours. For a work or internship supervisor, it is best to ask someone who observed your work directly rather than someone higher up at the organization who is less familiar with your work.
The best outreach is done in person, one because it feels more personable and two because you will get an immediate answer rather than being forced to wonder if the email was lost in the prospective writer’s inbox. If it is not feasible to meet in person, you can ask by email, but you will just want to provide plenty of context. Unless you are still currently in class with or working for your recommender, begin by reminding them of how they know you, for example what classes of theirs you were in and when. You will also want to mention specifically what you are applying for and why you are applying. This reasoning should be something meaningful, not just “I want to make a lot of money” or “I need something to do this summer.” This will make the recommender more likely to agree to spend time working on a letter for you.
When you ask for the letter is also important, you want to give as much advance notice as possible. This will lead to a letter that does not feel rushed. In addition, some busy professors with a lot of students only agree to write a certain number of letters each semester, on a first come first serve basis, and you don’t want to miss out.
Finally, during your initial outreach if a professor or supervisor hints that you may want to find someone else to write the letter, thank them for their time and move on. This is their way of signaling that the letter may not be as favorable as you may like and you will want to find someone else.
Make it easy
After someone has agreed to write you a recommendation letter, you want to make it as easy as possible for them to draft and submit the letter. Be sure to provide an updated copy of your resume along with information about what it is you are applying for. This will make the writing process faster for your recommender and will lead to a more customized result. You should also ask if the writer needs any additional information from you, which is a subtle way to find out if your writer wants more guidance on what aspects of your experience you are looking for them to touch upon.
You should also send your recommender clear instructions about where and how to upload the letter. If the program still does things the old fashion way, offer to cover postage and to pick up the letter and deliver it to the post office.
Finally, one to two weeks before the deadline, email your recommender, thank them again, and remind them again of the due date. This way, if the letter has slipped their mind they still have time to complete one without compromising on the quality.
If you remain connected to your professors and supervisors, it will be easier to ask for recommendation letters in the future. Connect with supervisors on LinkedIn and send update emails one to three times per year. You want them to remember you, but you also don’t want to spam them with information about yourself. In these email updates, include information about what you are doing now and consider including how your experience working with or learning from them has been helpful in your new endeavors. If you have a closer bond with a supervisor, you may even grab lunch or coffee a few times a year as a way of keeping in touch. I do this with one of my past internship managers, and she was the first to write me a great recommendation letter for graduate school.
We hope that these tips help make the process of asking for recommendation letters a little less daunting. These statements are a great way for someone to quickly get to know more about you, so you want to be able to put your best foot forward. Do you have your own tips? Share them with us on Twitter, @Conserisapp. Good luck!
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