Letters of recommendation from past employers play an important role in helping you to attain new jobs. Many companies require letters of recommendation, but otherwise they are good to have to back up the claims you make about yourself in your resume and cover letter. Given that competition is fierce in today’s job market, having past colleagues and bosses sing your praises can make the difference between getting rejected and moving on to the interview.
There are five things you can do to increase your chances of getting great letters of recommendation:
1. Carefully Choose Your Recommendations.
First, generate a list of potential colleagues and bosses that you might ask to write recommendations. Start off with those you had a good rapport with and knew well. To decide which people to ask, assign each person on your list a score from 1 to 10 (1 = not good letter, and 10 = the best possible letter). After you’ve given each name a number, go back and circle the two people with the highest numbers. These are the two people you should ask.
2. Timing is Important.
Whatever you do, don’t wait until months after you’ve left a company to ask them to write your letters of recommendation! At that late date, what kind of job do you think they will do? They may not even clearly remember who you are by that point. Ideally, you should ask them for your letter after you’ve given your resignation but before you leave. When asking, refrain from sending them a voicemail, email or text message; go meet them face-to-face and politely ask about completing a letter of recommendation for you.
3. Make it Easy for Them.
Letters of recommendation should provide potential employers with information about what kind of employee and person you are. Help them by providing your resume or portfolio, and summarizing everything you’ve done, accomplished, or achieved while at their company. Take a few minutes and go over the resume with them so that you can answer any questions they may have. The more helpful you are and the more comprehensive the information is, the better their letters will be. Your attitude toward them should be, “I want to make your job of writing recommendations for me as easy as I can.”
4. Follow Up.
People are very busy, and so it can be quite easy to get behind and even forget to write recommendations. It is important to give your references at least two weeks to complete your letter before checking back in with them. At that point, you can give them a gentle nudge. But remember, you don’t want them to resent the writing of the letter as this can make your recommendation go from great to just okay.
5. Say Thank You.
Remember that these people are under no obligation to write your recommendation letters. It’s something that they have chosen to do as a special favor. Therefore, you need to thank them for their efforts, and do it more than once. This is more than just being polite; it’s the right thing to do. And you never know when you might need to come back to them for some kind of follow-up letter.
By following the five steps above, you can make it easier on your volunteers and yourself, and end up with great recommendation letters that will help you land job interviews.
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