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How to Ask for a Recommendation: A Month-by-Month Guide

Posted Jan 11 2014 - 7:00pm

In the world of internships, open season has officially begun. As the summer draws closer, hopefuls scramble to score their dream positions. But when fighting for an internship is reminiscent of The Hunger Games, a collegiette needs her best ammunition by her side. Well-written cover letters and impressive resumes will help you snag a coveted interview, but an outstanding letter of recommendation is any hopeful’s secret weapon. “They prove that you’re real, talented and give you instant credibility in the eyes of those who don’t know you,” says Neal Schaffer, President of Windmills Marketing and networking guru. But how do you ask someone for a recommendation? More importantly, how do you ask them without sounding like a mooch? Allow us to help you.

January: Start planning who to ask

While many collegiettes resolve to find true love or shed a few pounds after the ball drops, you’re focused on landing that perfect internship. Start the search off by figuring out deadlines and which applications require a formal recommendation letter.  As you begin to make a list of places you’d love to work this summer, start making a list of whom you’d like to ask for a recommendation. But which ones are viable candidates?

It’s okay if you haven’t had an internship before

Some collegiettes have lengthy resumes; however, other hopefuls never had an internship. What’s a girl to do? “The applicant can also have a faculty member on their list if needed,” says Carol Spector, Director of Career Services at Emerson College. If you haven’t had any work experience, feel free to reach out to a professor or a faculty advisor of an extracurricular who you have a good relationship with.  Don’t worry, collegiettes; this month-by-month guide also works for this scenario.

The higher, the better

 You may have had your fair share of internships, but you’re clueless when it comes to figuring out which supervisor you should ask for a recommendation. When in doubt, take a walk down memory lane and think about who you worked with the most. “Generally speaking, the person you reported to at work would be the best person as they would be able to give the most details about your work,” says Schaffer. “However, the higher up in the organization that you can get a recommendation from, the more perceived value it might have – so aim high!” That being said, don’t ask someone you barely know – and who barely knows you - for a recommendation. Chances are that they won’t be able to give you a rave review.

Quality is key

Though you may be tempted to ask everyone you know for a recommendation, don’t. Instead, zero in on those who will really sing your praises. “You should have two or three names of people to provide for the new employer,” notes Spector. “You should choose people who can best speak to your talents and experiences that may be related to what you’re currently seeking.” Many times, your potential employer will specifically ask for some of your most recent bosses.  If someone you just interned for can give you a stellar recommendation, all the better.

Focus on the skills

While many people reach out to old bosses who can give a general, positive review, make sure to take the skills that this new internship requires into consideration. For example, maybe your computer science professor would make a great recommendation if you’re applying to programming internship. Not only will it show your potential employer that you’re a strong candidate, it also proves that you’ve done your research.

Keep tabs with social media

If you haven’t connected with your old employers online, now is a better time than any. “Social media gives us the ability to help stay in touch, so I say that you should friend or follow them on whatever social media platforms,” suggests Schaffer. Just make sure you know where to draw the virtual line. While following your old supervisor on Twitter or connecting with them on LinkedIn is one thing, friending them on Facebook is too invasive in most scenarios. Also, make sure that all your social platforms are intern-appropriate before you invite your old boss into your digital world. You may think your raunchy tweets are hysterical, but revealing your unprofessional side to your former employers will only hurt your chances of snagging that magnificent recommendation.  Stay on your old employer’s radar by retweeting some tweets or commenting on their latest LinkedIn updates (in a professional way).

February: Rekindle your professional relationship

Cover letter? Check. Resume? Check. Reference letters? Almost. Now that you’ve narrowed down your list of potential contacts, it’s time to bring up the internship search. “The longer you wait, the less that they will remember about you,” says Schaffer. “It really is a case of the sooner you do it, the better it will be for you.” Since you’ve been staying in contact with your old boss, reconnecting will be a breeze.  Wait, you haven’t stayed in touch this whole time? Don’t panic just yet—you may be able to salvage the relationship. Even if you’re a networking guru, you must check out the best ways to bring up the subject.

Visit your boss at work

Face-to-face time not only gives you the opportunity to really catch up, but it also shows your former employer that you genuinely care about your old internship. If you can visit your old boss, shoot him or her an email and ask if you bring them some coffee or just say a quick hello. Most likely, they won’t turn down a chance to catch up (or a steaming cup of their favorite brew).  Once you’re reconnecting, casually slip the intern search into the conversation. “I can’t believe it’s almost been a year since I’ve interned here,” you can say. “Now I have to start the search process all over again.” Though you’re not blatantly asking for a recommendation, this comment may lead to more conversation about your internship search. You never know—maybe your old boss will offer to give you a recommendation right then and there.

Catch up over email

Don’t let distance hurt your chances of scoring a stellar recommendation. If visiting your old intern stomping ground is impossible, reconnect over email instead.  A perfect way to initiate conversation is by showing your old boss that you’re still keeping tabs on the company. If you interned at a magazine, compliment the latest issue. Or, if you worked in a more corporate environment, congratulate your old supervisor on that new partnership. “By ‘always being on the lookout for them,’ you will win a permanent place in their heart—and reap the dividends down the road,” says Schaffer. Just remember to ask your old boss how they’re doing. Unless your former employer is in a rush, he or she will most likely ask how you’re doing. Don’t ask for the recommendation just yet—that’s a major mooch move. Instead, take this opportunity to plant the seed. “I’m good!” you reply. “I’m in currently in the process of applying for summer internships. I can’t believe it’s been a year since I applied to work at [insert company’s name here].” Not only are you laying down the groundwork for the big question, you’re also bringing the conversation back to your old internship.

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