A reference can make or break your application for a job. The way you write about yourself in a cover letter will introduce your experience from the perspective of how you will most benefit the company. Remember, when you are attempting to get a job, the company is most interested in how your skills and experience will move the company forward. A job is not the reward at the end of a college education. No one owes you anything so convey in your cover letter your personality, your dedication and your knowledge of how you can help the company.
The rest is up to the line items in your resume. Those details in your resume will stand squarely on the words from your references. Choosing the right blend of carefully and thoughtfully crafted letters of recommendation will be the support for what you promised in your cover letter.
How to get references
When you’re in school, you should make every attempt to network with peers and professors. Make sure you use your time wisely and spend equal time studying, getting involved with clubs or societies represented by your future profession and listening to your mentor.
1. Choose wisely (professional people)
You wouldn’t ask for a reference for a government job from your English 101 professor just because you earned an A in the course. Choose your letters of reference to come from professors who know your academic record as well as how hard you work at furthering your career. Try to gain internship experience and engage co-workers, peers and bosses to provide references after you leave.
2. Get references by asking
If you don’t ask, you will less likely receive. Professional peers and professors will happily speak on your behalf if you’ve earned it, but you cannot forget to ask. Seek references via LinkedIn as well as on letterhead for specific opportunities.
3. Stay connected to get references
Your fifth grade teacher isn’t the best person to ask for a letter of recommendation, but keeping in touch over time is paramount to earning quality praise. LinkedIn is a great tool for building an online portfolio and engaging your network. Send examples from your portfolio to past instructors and keep a close eye on the industries and key personnel where you’d like to one day work.
4. Provide specifics (not just general info)
The devil is in the details. A vague, form-letter from even a respected professional will bore a potential employer. “Sarah goes above and beyond, is never late and is a real go-getter,” will not get Sarah anywhere. The best letters of recommendation come from those mentors you’ve gotten to know. Impressive references can say, “I met Sarah in my 1101 course and she excelled in the class where the average grade was a C. She then went on to start her own club based on the principles she learned. She takes her work seriously and balances her time between an internship with NASA and….” You get the point. This reference didn’t accept a bribe for the reference and she didn’t do it as a courtesy to a student who did well in one class. If your reference writers cannot or will not take the time to list specifics, then ask for letters from others.
5. Get references from different people for different positions
Don’t ask you marketing professor to recommend you for a job as a reporter and don’t ask the director of programming from your radio internship to recommend you for a job as a nurse. The crime has to fit the punishment. Make connections that last and make impression so you’ll be worthy of a reference letter. When pursuing different avenues or even slightly different position in the same industry, make sure your references come from the most impressive person who can speak most impressively about your work in the field.
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