How to Obtain Recommendations for Your First Job

By Roberto Angulo

One of the advantages of being a first-time job seeker is that employers most likely won’t ask you for references. This is because they know you haven’t had any previous employment. Nonetheless, some employers may ask you for some references.

To paraphrase a popular saying, it’s better to have the references and not need them than to need them and not have them. You’re also better off asking for references early on in your job-seeking quest to get this out of the way. This way, you’re not scrambling later on trying to get endorsements on short notice while an employer is waiting for them before it can give you an offer.

Start making a list of past employers, teachers, and classmates whom you’ll ask to serve as references or to give you endorsements.

Securing past employer recommendations

You’ve most likely had internships or a part-time job in the past, or you’ve done some volunteer work. If so, start asking some of your past employers if they can act as references. You can also ask them for recommendations ahead of time, even if you’re not sure your prospective employer will need them. It’s up to you.

Past bosses often move on to other organizations. If all your prospective employer needs is to verify past employers, give it the main number for the organization. If you or your employer needs a recommendation or reference, track down your former boss and reach out to her.

Writing someone for a recommendation

You may have a great relationship with your former boss where it’s easy for you to ask for a reference or recommendation. Either way, be polite and ask early enough. Also, be ready to thank the person for any reference or recommendation, whether or not you get the job.

Here’s a simple note you can send to your former employer, via email or via LinkedIn, asking for a good word from him:

Hello, _____.

I hope you’re doing well. I’m in the process of looking for a job and I’d like to list you as a reference. I had a great experience working with you and learned a lot. I’d like to share your name and contact information with prospective employers.

Please confirm this is okay and let me know what email or phone number I can provide as contact information.

Thank you very much, and take care,

Your Name

If you need a reference letter, definitely ask for it early in the process. They take time to write, and you want to make sure you give the person enough time to write you a good letter. Here’s an example of how you can make the request. Fill in the blanks appropriately. Make sure you provide a deadline of when you need the letter, and most important, always be courteous. Also, add details on the job you’re pursuing and a link to the job description if you have one. This will help the person craft the letter.

Hello, _____.

I hope you’re doing well! I’m in the process of looking for a job, and I’d like to ask you for a letter of recommendation. I know you’re busy, and I appreciate your help. The deadline for the letter is _________ and you can send it to _________.

The opportunity I’m considering is a ____________ role with ____________. My job would entail doing _________________.

I’ve attached the job description to help you understand the role.

A good word from you will definitely help my prospects in securing this job. Your letter can briefly describe the work I did for you, some of my best qualities, and how you think I can do well in this role.

If you can do this, please let me know. I really appreciate it! Also, please let me know if I can do anything to make it easier for you to write the letter.

Thank you in advance and best regards,

Your Name

Be ready to provide the writer of your letter with some bullet points of items to include in the letter. This can include some of your strengths and specific contributions. You may also need to write the letter for that person.

Approaching teachers for recommendations

Professors typically don’t do recommendations unless they know you well enough. If you have a professor you work with or an advisor, she should be willing to write you a letter. You can also approach a faculty advisor of a student group if you belonged to one, especially if you were in a leadership position.

Here are some things to remember when asking a professor for a recommendation:

  • Ask early. Do it prior to finals or midterms, when your professor will most likely be inundated with grading papers or exams.
  • Consider teaching assistants. If your professor is unable to write a letter, ask the teaching assistant. A professor is more prestigious, but a teaching assistant’s recommendation is better than no recommendation at all.
  • Write your own letter. In some cases, you may be asked to write the letter yourself, for the professor, and then hand it to him so he can add the finishing touches. If you get asked to write your own letter, don’t be bummed. It’s normal and it just means the individual is busy, but he wants to help you.

Crafting your own recommendation letter

If you’re asked to write your own letter, here’s a sample letter you can customize and use:

To whom it may concern,

It is with pleasure that I recommend YOUR NAME HERE for ___________ role at _________.

As I understand, the opportunity entails doing ____________________

__________________________________________________________.

YOUR NAME HERE is an ideal candidate for this position. While he/she was a student in my _______ class/group, he/she showed great aptitude in _______________ and performed well, obtaining one of the top scores in the class. The work involved working in a group, and YOUR NAME HERE was able to work well and collaboratively as part of a team. His/her fellow team members often went to YOUR NAME HERE for assistance and relied on him/her for feedback.

YOUR NAME HERE showed mastery of the subject matter and was always willing to help others.

I believe YOUR NAME HERE’s work style, ability to master difficult concepts, and willingness to help others provide him/her with the skills necessary to succeed in any endeavor he/she sets his/her mind to. I would, therefore, appreciate any consideration you can give YOUR NAME HERE for this position.

Sincerely,

When writing your own letter, provide the document to the person recommending you in a file format where she can easily make edits (such as Microsoft Word).

Be sure to include the following components in the letter:

  • Role and responsibilities: Include the job that you’re applying to and details about what the job entails.
  • Organization: Include the organization that you’re applying to.
  • Accomplishments: Include any of your specific accomplishments or results you achieved that the recommender can point to in his letter.
  • Skill sets: Include any skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying to that the recommender will also be willing to write about.