Are Letters of Recommendation really necessary ? Not always. BUT, this does not mean that you shouldn’t ALWAYS have a great LOR (Letter of Rec) on hand. Below are some pointers on how to make sure that your LORs are the best of the best !
How to Get Great Letters of Recommendation
- Write it ! My biggest tip is to approach a former employer, teacher, friend-of-family and say, “I need a letter of recommendation for an internship, if I write one, do you mind looking over it and signing it ? I know you are busy.” This ensures that your letter will read exactly as you like it ! Let’s be honest. Most employers are busy and don’t want or have time to write you that smoking letter that stands out. This is the approach I have used and employers actually appreciate that I’m trying to save them time. They will make any changes they see suitable and print out on company letterhead.
- Letterhead. The letter is not official unless it is printed on school or company letterhead. Make sure that if a teacher writes you a nice LOR that you have several copies on school letterhead. This is the same for companies. If a former employer writes you a LOR, make sure you have copies on company letterhead.
- Get ‘Em Quick. The biggest mistake I made with LORs is that I waited until my senior year of college to ask a professor for one. At this point, I hardly knew any of my professors and had to ask a teacher from sophmore year to write one. He was nice enough to do it. I knew he barely remembered me. I suggest getting one LOR after each school semester. Choose whichever teacher you feel the closest with. Also, make sure that you did alright in their class. They certainly will not want to write a letter if you failed their class. Approach your teacher and explain that you are searching for internships and want to make sure you have all of your materials prepared. Explain that you’d love for them to write you a LOR but if they are too busy you understand. If they ask you what it should say, you can offer to write a sample and have them look over it. This rule also applies with jobs. After each job you have (as long as you aren’t fired), ask your employer for a Letter of Rec.
- The 3 LOR rule. I suggest always having 3 different LORs on hand. One should be from a professor, one from an employer, and another from a family friend (not a parent). The professor should speak about your work ethic, timeliness, ability to work in a group, etc. The employer (or former employer) should speak about your professional characteristics and the family-friend should speak about your personality/character traits. If you haven’t worked before, get two letters from different teachers.
- Content Matters. These letters should read like rave reviews of yourself. These letters should put an “undecided” employer over the top and make them want to hire you. If you think that the letter does not speak highly of you - don’t use it.
- One Page or Less. A LOR should not be more than one page. In fact, it should be short and to the point. (The point being that you are the best internship candidate in the world). I like LORs to be two paragraphs. The first paragraph should explain the purpose of the letter. The second paragraph should give examples of your professional and personality qualities that make you THE candidate for the internship. See the sample below.
To whom this may concern:
This letter is to recommend, Lauren Berger, for your summer internship at FOX Television. I had the privledge of working with Ms. Berger throughout the Fall semester of 2008. Her responsibilities including tracking all incoming submissions, scheduling meetings for myself and my colleagues, phone/admin duties, attending marketing meetings, greeting guests, and providing coverage on several scripts. Ms. Berger did a fantastic job and I really felt she gave 100 percent to all of her tasks.
Lauren came across extremely energetic and full of life. Her personality was not only magnetic but inspiring to myself and those around her. She took on tasks that were both hard and difficult and was always the first to volunteer. At one point during the semester, Lauren offered to organize our script cabinet. I thought her initiative, hard work, and ability to work well in a group environment was extremely impressive and a breath of fresh air.
I highly recommend Lauren for this internship and believe you will be very impressed with her and happy with your selection. Feel free to contact me directly with questions or concerns.
- Keep them clean. Keep these letters in a safe place. I suggest putting together a folder labeled “internship materials”. Keep your letters here so they are clean and ready when you need them. Letters of Rec are NOT something you want to be rushing around for at the last minute.
More Advice on Letters Of Recommendation (LOR) - From my Twitter Friends!
“Letters of Rec should have why/how the person is known, how long, and what makes them stand out.” @IrisinNC, Iris Carter, Writer ,http://iriscarter.com/.
“I also like to get the letter directly from the person writing the recommendation, not from the person it’s for.” @RobMcNealy, Rob McNealy, Entrepreneur and Business Coach, http://www.startupstoryradio.com/twitter-policy-and-philosophy/.
“I like to see some familiarity with the person; concrete examples of what the person has accomplished, so I know it’s not BS.” @RobMcNealy, Rob McNealy, Entrepreneur and Business Coach, http://www.startupstoryradio.com/twitter-policy-and-philosophy/.
“That they don’t expect to work 9-5 and that they feel it in their bones that this is the biz they want to be in.” @LizHarmon (when asked what she wants to read in a Letter of Rec), Lizz Harmon, PR Expert, http://www.harmontampa.com/.
Other Helpful Links:
Collegebound’s Letter of Rec Advice:
WriteExpress’s Letter of Rec Advice: