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References and Letters of Recommendation

Most jobs require you to submit references or recommendations as a major component of the hiring process. Sometimes first-time job hunters forget to plug this into their job search preparation. Here are a few things you should think about as you assemble your recommendations.

Professional vs. Personal. Yeah, Grandma loves you and thinks you are the best at everything you do, but prospective employers generally assume that family members and close family friends are a bit biased. Supervisors and bosses at part-time jobs are a great resource. They know how you work, whether you are dependable and how well you work under pressure. If you have never had a job, think about teachers, volunteer coordinators, or others who have seen your organizational and problem-solving skills.

Paid vs. Unpaid. As indicated above, it really doesn't matter whether you were paid or not. Internships, volunteer work or research assistance can all form the backbone of a good recommendation.

Give them a heads up. You don't want a recruiter to call your reference without them expecting the call. You don't want there to be an awkward hesitation when they ask, "We are considering John/Susie for a job. Could you tell us about his/her work habits?" Be sure to get permission ahead of time and tell your reference what sort of jobs you will be seeking.  If recommendation letters are required as part of the application process, be sure to contact your recommenders as soon as possible so that they have enough time to write a quality letter (at least a week if not more). To make the process easier, provide your recommenders with your resume and include a brief narrative on your interests along with specific skills and experience you would like them to highlight.

Jog their memory. After you secure permission to use someone as a reference, send them a recent resume along with a quick note reminding them of when you worked for them or what classes you attended. They may have known you were an honors student when you worked with them, but it may escape their memory three years later.

Keep them in the loop and say 'thank you.' When the dust settles on your job search and you have finally secured that full-time job, call or write your references and let them know the result. Send them a thank-you note.  LinkedIn has a helpful article about writing a thank-you-note.

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