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How to Ask Your Professors for a Job Recommendation
Sep 21, 2010
Are you intimidated by your professors or maybe just unsure how to approach them for that all-important letter of reference? Read on to learn how to choose the right instructors, approach them confidently and come away with a glowing job recommendation.
A good letter of reference can make all the difference in landing that dream job - or any job, for that matter. But many college students and recent graduates don't have a lot of work experience and aren't sure whom to ask for a job recommendation. In fact, you don't need to look any further than your classroom (or alma mater).
Professors are great sources for job recommendations. Writing professional and academic references is part of the job they do, and most of them want to see their students succeed. However, you can't ask just anybody, and there's definitely a right and a wrong way to go about it. Here's a little guide to asking your professors for a job recommendation:
Find the Right Person
Not every professor should be treated equally in your search for a job recommendation. You want to find someone who knows you and your work well, and who you're certain will write you a good letter. Choose a professor in whose class you earned at least a B+ (A is preferable) and with whom you had a good rapport. If you've taken a class with your thesis or academic advisor, and you get along well, approach him or her first.
Hone Your Approach
The approach can be the scariest part, but there are a few things to keep in mind that will make it easier.
- Be personal. Asking in person is best, but that can be hard for many people. These days, most professors don't mind getting formal requests via email, but make sure that the message is professional and well written.
- Ask early. If you really hit it off with a professor and do well in his or her class, ask at the end of the term. You and your good performance will be fresh in his or her mind. This is especially true at large schools where professors interact with hundreds of new students every term.
- Be professional. Ask politely, but do not try to 'butter them up'. Flattering your professor when you ask him or her for a job recommendation sounds disingenuous at best. Just be confident and courteous and you'll get an equally courteous response.
- Be gracious. It's important to be prepared for a 'no' and to know how to handle it gracefully. People have many reasons for refusing to write a recommendation, and they rarely want to share them. Just thank them for their consideration, and move on to the next person. And remember - if they don't want to write you the letter, then you probably won't be helped by what they have to say.
Make Their Lives Easier
There are two crucial ways to smooth this process: Ask your professors well before the letter is due (at least two weeks, preferably four) and give them as much information as possible. Remember, the less work your professors have to do, the more likely they are to write you that letter.
Not everyone will want the same information, but here are several items to have on hand just in case:
- Your transcript
- Your resume
- A list of your academic awards and honors
- Details on the job to which you're applying
- An addressed and stamped envelope
- Instructions on how and where to submit the recommendation
Some professors may also ask you for talking points, such as a specific set of skills you'd like them to highlight. Don't offer these unless you're asked, but you'd be surprised by how many professors want your suggestions. If it's been a while since you took an instructor's class, it may also help to remind him or her of your best work.
Waive Your Rights
Many job applications allow candidates to waive the right to read letters of recommendation. Always do so, and make sure to tell your professors that you have. Your potential employer will think the letter is more honest if you've waived your right to read it, and the person writing the recommendation may feel more comfortable 'singing your praises' if you aren't looking at it.
Professors are very busy people. Don't be afraid to check in with them periodically to find out if they've written the letter - just be careful not to nag. It's also important to thank everyone who's written you a recommendation and let them know how things turned out. They'll want to congratulate you, or find out if you need another letter.
Go forth, be confident and get that recommendation! And remember - if the job doesn't work out, these tips will work for graduate school recommendations too.