All About Personal Job References and Letters of Recommendation

By Danni White on January 20, 2017

As a recent or soon-to-be college graduate and a new job-seeker, one of your most important tools in the toolbox for entering into the working world is to have solid references and strong letters of recommendation.

You will need both of these documents for two reasons.

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First, HR managers are simply too busy to sift through every single paper on every single application. Nor do they have time to discern whether to believe everything applicants say [at least on paper] about themselves. HR managers want to hear the truth about applicants and it can usually be given to them through a few sentences from someone else.

Second, a letter of recommendation or a good reference will automatically make you stand out. It will elevate a great candidate to the top list of picks and could drop an equally great candidate to the won’t-be-hired stack. It’s important to gather quality recommendation letters and keep them on file. In the fast hiring process, you want to turn these around quickly while at the same time giving yourself a good shot of getting to the top.

So here are some additional tips about personal job references and letters of recommendation that just might be the clincher for you getting that dream job.

Who To Ask

On average, employers will ask for three references when applying for a job. So you need to have at least three professional people (not family members or friends) who can honestly vouch for you. It doesn’t hurt to have more than three and if you have them, certainly provide them on the application if there’s space available.

It is best to select people who know much more than that you exist and worked for them. The people you ask need to know something about your character, work ethic, and overall attitude and ability for the job to which you’re applying.

Select Strong Endorsers

A recommendation is like a human stamp of approval. This is why it is important to know previous managers and supervisors and get their permission to use them as references. You need someone who is responsive to requests and can confirm details about you such as your responsibilities, position, reason for leaving and other details.

It is also a good idea to know what the endorser is going to say about you. Some employers will simply ask for contact information and then contact them on their own. If this is the type of application you’re filling out, be sure the recommenders know that the request is coming. Ensure you’ve done a good job and are leaving with no beef with your boss so there is no choice but to be positive about your performance.

Make sure the information you give to a potential employer and what your references say is consistent and can be corroborated. Inconsistent, or worse, inaccurate information can hinder your chances of a job offer.

All In Writing

When leaving one position for another or one company for another, ask for a recommendation in writing from the boss. This is a more reasonable request especially if you’ve had a good working relationship.

As time passes and people get older and more forgetful or move to different positions or locations themselves, what they remember about you and your performance may fade. So if you obtain letters at least two weeks before you make your move, you will have everything documented in writing and you’ll be good to go.

If you ask a supervisor for a letter of recommendation long after you’re gone, you may need to kindly refresh their memory about who you are and what you did during your time with them.

How To Ask

This goes without saying, but be polite when asking. Take into consideration the recommender’s time and his or her responsibilities. It is best to ask in an email and then follow up after about a week if there is no response. If you see him or her every day or regularly, if you feel comfortable, you may ask them politely whether they got your email to remind them of it.

Do not ask “Can you write a recommendation letter for me?” Assume they can. The thing is they may not know what to say about you. Instead ask “If you feel you know me well enough and feel I’ve done a good job here, would you mind writing a good recommendation letter for me?”

With wording like this, the recommender can think about what to say and whether it will be good. You can also be certain that those who agree to write a letter will give you a good recommendation. If your recommender asks for additional information such as a resume, be sure to provide it.

Additionally, not every supervisor has written a letter of recommendation before. If this is the case and they ask for help, provide a few samples to your employer to help in the process.

How To Know It’s Good

Strong recommendation letters and references should show your skills and work ethic in a positive light. There are a few other clues you can look for to see whether it will benefit you.

First, it should reflect who you are as a person and why you’re qualified. Second, it should be customized to fit the new job position in that it should show how you’ll benefit the new company. Third, it should provide at least one to two examples of what you’ve done to benefit the company you’re leaving.

Finally, the letter should look and sound professional and include contact information for the recommender.

Don’t Forget

Yes, one last thing. Don’t forget to express your thanks. Regardless of whether you get the job you’re applying for or not, let your recommenders know what happens and be sure to sincerely thank them for taking the time and putting in the effort to produce a letter for you.

And when you get the job, be sure to send another note of appreciation. After all, they were at least a small part of your success.

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