5 secrets to getting the perfect job recommendation


Asking someone to be a reference or write a letter of recommendation can feel really awkward. But it's an inevitable part of landing a new job, applying to graduate school and taking the next step in your career.

When you need someone to vouch for you, you want to choose a person who will sing your praises. Here's how to do it right. 

1. It's all about who you know — and how well they know you

Your reference needs to say good things about you and talk up your talents. So it helps if you have someone to ask who actually knows who you are and why you're so awesome. 

"The best references are from people who have worked closely with you," Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, author of It’s Not the How or the What but the Who, told the Harvard Business Review.

The stronger your relationship and the better your recommender knows you, the more genuine and convincing they will come across.

Need help building stronger relationships? Be willing to ask for help when you need it, and treat each person you're talking to as if they're the most interesting person in the room, suggests Daniel Epstein, who was named 2014's entrepreneur of the year by the World Entrepreneurship Forum. 

Most importantly, always follow through when you say you're going to do something. That builds trust, and trust builds relationships.

2. Don't disappear when you leave a job

Strong work relationships don't end just because you switch jobs. It never hurts to drop a note to a former co-worker about catching up over drinks or keep following your old boss on Twitter.

While staying in touch has its own rewards, it's especially helpful during a job search. After all, you don't want to tip your current employer off that you're interviewing by asking someone at your current job to vouch for you.

Asking an old boss or co-worker can be a good way to avoid this awkward situation — but only if you've kept in touch. 

Another way to stay connected if your work relationship never spilled over into happy hour: Send industry news and relevant industry information via email, as it gives you a good excuse to reach out to former contacts, according to Lifehacker.

3. Be smart about who you ask

Who should you ask? "Managers who have given you positive performance reviews.... co-workers who have thanked you for help on projects.... and people who have successfully worked under you," are all good references, career expert Priscilla Claman told the Harvard Business Review.  

It pays to have more than one person in mind, since your top pick might be on vacation or maternity leave when your potential new employer asks you for names and numbers. Three is a good rule of thumb, with your best reference at the top of the list.

4. Give your references as much advance notice as possible

If you need a written letter of recommendation, it's vital that you provide at least a couple weeks' notice. Asking in person or by phone is best, but you can send an email if you must, according to the Muse

Notice is also important when listing someone as a reference, even if they may get a call just minutes later. You don't want your reference to be unprepared — or worse, not pick up at all because they don't know who's calling.

Make your recommender's job easy by providing talking points. Examples might be projects you excelled on, professional traits that set you apart and a short personal anecdote to show that they really know you. Let your recommender know a little about the job or program you're applying for so they can tailor their comments appropriately. 

Lastly, give your would-be recommender a way to refuse without things getting awkward. "Would you have time to be a reference?” works just fine.

5. Say thank you — then pay it forward

It's important to thank your reference for taking the time to talk you up.  


If their reference helped you get the job, tell them so!  

Finally, once you've been hired — thanks to your good reference — it's time to pay it forward. Mentoring less experienced candidates at work allows you to give back for the help you've been provided in your career. And who knows, one day they might ask you to be a reference too.

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