3 Laughably Simple Rules for Getting Recommendation Letters

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You can run and you can hide, but you can’t escape from them. Yes, at some point, you’re going to have to deal with getting references for your job applications. It can be a little scary to approach people in positions of authority to ask them for a recommendation, which is why we’ve put together this non-intimidating three-pronged guide to getting references.

1. It’s never too early to start

The first thing you need to know is: It’s never too early to start. The last thing you want is to get to the final stage in a job application and then have to scramble to try to find people and get their contact information.

In fact, don’t even wait until you have an internship—start by getting to know your professors (who can be excellent references, BTW). If you find your professors terrifying or just don’t know how to go about building relationships with them, Levo League has this excellent article, “Get to Know Your Professors in Three Easy Steps.”

2. Use good manners when you ask

It pays to observe general etiquette rules when you ask. And you DO have to ask—don’t just assume that someone will be your reference because they used to manage or supervise you.

In addition to giving fair warning, you should also follow up afterward with a thank you note and an update of how things went, especially if you got the job.

For a more detailed explanation, check out “The Right (and Wrong) Way to Ask Someone to be a Reference” from The Daily Muse and “Are Your Job References in Order?” by Alison Green (also known as “the manager” from Ask a Manager fame.)

3. It’s okay to use social media—as long as you’re actually social

If you don’t have a LinkedIn account set up, now is a good time to get going. It doesn’t take much time to set up a basic profile (don’t forget the professional photo!) and import your email contacts.

It’s becoming increasingly common for companies to ask for applications via LinkedIn, so having an account and network already in place can definitely come in handy.

Once you include a list of your skills on your profile, you’ll start getting endorsed by your contacts (this basically means that someone in your network says, “Yes, Joe really does know how to use Excel/speak Swahili/play the ukulele”).

Finally, one super helpful way to use LinkedIn is to ask people in your network to recommend you. These recommendations are not for one specific job, but more of a general recommendation of your character and the work you did with that person. For more info on how to go about this (the right way), see Mashable’s “6 Things You Need to Know about LinkedIn Recommendations.”

Homework time! Make sure you have a way to keep track of people’s contact information. A Google docs spreadsheet is great because you can access the file on any computer with an internet connection, or even on your phone if you’re really fancy.

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