You aced your classes, said goodbye to your professors and friends, and left campus in style (and with a diploma, of course). After graduation, you thought you’d never talk to your professors again. But now, a year out of college as you are in the midst of a job hunt, you realize you need to ask your former professors for one more favor: a recommendation.
Whether you are applying for a professional school or getting a job, chances are you will need at least one formal reference. If you have previous work experience or completed an internship, you can of course reach out to your supervisor. But if you don’t have that experience or need multiple references, you may want to reach out to your professors. This can feel slightly weird, especially if you haven’t spoken to them since you left campus. But with the right strategy, you can reach out, get the recommendation and avoid any awkwardness.
Maintain a relationship with them after graduation.
You don’t have to get coffee with them every week, but after graduation, you should try to stay in touch with one or two professors that really helped you throughout your college career. This was something that really helped Samantha Driscoll, a graduate of St. Edward’s University.
“You should maintain a good relationship with that professor upon graduating. You don’t want it to come across like you only reach out to them when you need something from them. Check in periodically and give updates about your life post-college. They WANT you to succeed just as much as you do, so they will love the updates when they come, even if you don’t have any new news to report on,” Samantha says.
If you have accepted a new internship or have done some volunteer work related to their course, send your professor a quick email updating them on your life. If you keep the channels of communication open now, it will be easier to ask them for a favor should you need one.
And, if you happen to have some hip professors, try connecting with them on social media. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, keeping up with them online can make it easier to reach out IRL when the time comes.
Reach out to the professors you connected with.
If you dropped the ball and haven’t been regularly checking in with your professors, don’t worry—you can still get that letter of recommendation. Instead of reaching out to every professor you ever had, focus in on a few that you really connected with during your time on campus.
Taylor Strickland, a senior at UW-Milwaukee, has found this strategy to be very helpful.
“In my experience, I always try to ask professors I made a genuine connection with,” Taylor says. “It should be a professor you asked for help from during class, met with one-on-one or really bonded with over something.”
Brenna Treese, a senior a University of Massachusetts Amherst, also recommends reaching out to professors who you had in smaller classes. “They are more likely to remember you and have probably built some sort of relationship with their students. In my experience, professors who teach classes of 30 or so students are more likely to care about them and have an interest in their success for future careers,” Brenna says.
If there was one professor you connected with in your senior seminar or a professor that advised you from freshman year on, they will know you better and will be able to write a more detailed and genuine letter of recommendation that can help you land that job.
You should also take time to consider professors that saw your work ethic and professional skills firsthand. You may not have been super close with them, but they would be able to provide employers or admission officers with detailed information about why you would be a good fit.
You may think that you can shoot off an email to any old professor, but if you don’t have your heart in it, your professors are going to be able to tell. Try to think of specific things you can include that make the request personal, instead of a generic, fill-in-the-blank email.
“I’d say it’s best to always start with a memory you have from their class, especially if it’s been a while (I loved when you talked about ______ during ______ class. It’s really stuck with me). Then I always say something along the lines of: If you have the time, I’m applying for _______ and [I am] in need of a recommendation. Because we had such a great connection, I thought of you right away! If you have the time, I’d love for you to be the one to write it,” Taylor suggests.
If you’re reaching out for a professional reference, you can simply let your professor know that, saying something like, “Would it be acceptable for me to list you as a professional reference. You will receive a phone call or email from ______ company. Since we worked closely on ______, I thought you would be best to speak about my experience with _______.”
And when making these requests, don’t just be genuine with your flattery—be genuine and true about why you want this job. If your professor knows that they can play a role in helping you land your dream job, they may be more inclined to help.
Taking a little extra time to frame your request in a genuine way will increase the chances of your professor honoring your request.
Offer gentle reminders about your time in their class.
One big worry you may have is that your professors won’t remember you—especially if it has been a while since you were in their class. But here’s the deal: if you enjoyed their class, participated and talked with them, it’s likely they will remember you.
But on the off-chance they don’t, Brooklynn Kramer, a graduate of Ohio University, recommends trying to include a reminder about what you did in their class, or how their class impacted you.
“My tip for this would be to remind them of a project you completed while asking for a recommendation,” says Brooklynn. “[Try] saying, ‘I really enjoyed working on the Her Campus Video Tutorial in your class. I’m currently applying for a video designer role at ___ and would truly appreciate a recommendation on my work on that video and in your class.’ Reminding them will hopefully spark their memory.”
These gentle reminders can also help your professors think of things they want to mention in your letter of recommendation, such as your diligence or dedication to projects.
Be sure thank them and stay in touch.
Once you’ve secured that letter, make sure to send your professor a thank you note, either handwritten or over email. They’ve taken time out of their busy lives to write you a thoughtful letter of recommendation, so the least you can do is send them a thank you.
But after that initial thank you, make sure you keep them updated. Samantha has worked hard to maintain a friendship with the professors that helped her land her current job.
“I periodically send them copies of the magazine I work for and send them updates on how my job is going. I also visit campus when I fly back to Texas and talk to their current students about the publishing industry and life in NYC, and I thank them every chance I get for being my biggest fan and always pushing me to be the best I can be,” Samantha says.
If your professor’s recommendation helps you land a job, make sure to tell them that! As a way of paying it forward, offer to chat one-on-one with any of their current students interested in your career field or give a guest lecture to their class. And if they ever ask you for a favor, you should do everything you can to honor that request.
It’s actually pretty easy to reconnect with professors and ask for a letter of recommendation. What are you waiting for?