Well-written cover letters and impressive resumes will help you snag a coveted interview, but an outstanding letter of recommendation is any intern-hopeful’s secret weapon.
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, you need your best ammunition. 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.
But how do you ask someone for a recommendation? More importantly, how do you ask them without sounding like a mooch?
January: Start planning who to ask
While many collegiettes resolve to find true love or shed a few pounds in the new year, 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 students have lengthy resume — others have never had an internship.
“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.
The higher, the better
You may have had your fair share of internships, but you could still be 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 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. 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 e-mail 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.
“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. Don’t ask for the recommendation just yet — that’s a major mooch move. Instead, take this opportunity to plant the seed.
March: Pop the question
When it comes to actually asking for the letter of recommendation, you can send an e-mail.
“Just make sure you personalize the request so it doesn’t look like you sent the same one to dozens of people,” warns Schaffer.
Email your old employer to ask, ‘Would you feel comfortable with writing me a letter of recommendation?’
This way, you’re giving your potential recommender the option to say no. But since you were such a fabulous intern, they’ll probably be thrilled you thought of him or her.
Don’t be afraid to follow up
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself refreshing your e-mail every five minutes — it happens to the best of us. If you don’t hear back from your potential recommender soon, follow up with a friendly e-mail.
In the event you still haven’t heard back from them, you might want to explore your other options — that’s why you created a list of potentials.
Give your recommender additional information
Congratulations! Your old boss said that he or she would love to write you a letter of recommendation. But you’re not home free just yet.
To make sure that you get the best letter of recommendation you can, provide your former employer with some additional information. “Basically, whatever information that you think they should know to increase the chances that your recommendation will help you get hired, tell them that!” says Schaffer.
So what exactly does that mean? We would never leave you hanging at a time like this:
Just like everyone else, your recommenders can forget things or become a little sidetracked.
“You may want to give the person a week,” suggests Spector. “Build in some time for that if you have a deadline or know the timeframe for the letter.”
Where you’re applying:
If your recommender has enough time, you should ask him or her to customize each letter to each company. A dash of personalization will show your potential employer that you care enough about this internship to tell your recommender about it. But don’t be a nag if your they are swamped with their own work — remember he or she is doing you a favor.
Who they should address the letter to:
Even if you recommender doesn’t personalize each letter, “To Whom It May Concern” is a little too impersonal for our liking. Ask your recommender if he or she would mind addressing the letters to different people — it usually won’t be an issue.
Your previous experiences:
Just because you’ve worked with your recommender doesn’t mean that he or she has memorized your whole resume.
In order to get a comprehensive letter of recommendation, send along your resume. If you want them to talk about a certain experience, provide a brief description of that incredible internship or extracurricular. Better safe than sorry, right?
To find out what you steps you should take in April, May, and June, be sure to check out the rest of this article here.
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