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Letters of Recommendation and How To Get Them

Probably – most likely – sometime in your life, you will need to get a letter of recommendation. Letters of recommendation are exactly what their title says – letters written by people who know you and are recommending that you would be a good candidate for a job or other related position. These letters are often very important. You might need one in order to acquire a job, apply to a school, or even get an internship.

Essentially, sooner or later, the need for a letter of recommendation will come up.

The need for a letter of recommendation came up for me in a serious way when I filled out my applications for college. But I wasn’t exactly “timely.” In fact, I didn’t plan well at all and ended up needing to get several letters of recommendation in the time span of two weeks in order to meet the application deadline.

I hustled around town, seeking out old teachers and anyone who I thought would not only give me a good recommendation but do it quickly. I’m pretty sure I annoyed a lot of people and I certainly stressed myself out trying to turn in my applications before the deadline.

This is not the best way to get letters of recommendation. Don’t do what I did…You WILL regret it.

Why? First of all, if I had planned better I wouldn’t have annoyed the people that I respect and appreciate the most. I would have even gotten better letters from them (I suspect). I also wouldn’t have been so stressed out. And finally, I would’ve been able to ask more people – many of whom I knew were too busy to get letters back to me quickly but who would have given me good ones anyway.

So, my first bit of advice is to plan well. If you know your application deadline, ask for a letter of recommendation at least a month before, even more if you can. This gives the person time to think about what they want to say, write it, edit it, and send it in.

My second piece of advice is to read the directions carefully. My college application had all sorts of rules – they had to come in sealed envelopes, they needed to be from specific people, they needed to be sent directly to the school, or they needed to be on a special form. Keeping organized with all this information can be challenging, especially if you’re applying for several schools or jobs at the same time. So make sure you are clear and careful – I made out special index cards for each application.

Next, choose the person you are asking carefully. The most obvious point is to make sure that the person you are asking will give you a good reference, but there are other things to think about as well. Make sure that he or she relates to the application. For instance, don’t ask your math tutor to write a letter if you are applying to dance school. Ask your dance instructor instead.

Also make sure that the person you are asking understands what the application is for. A lot of people that I asked wanted to look at the catalogue of the school I was applying to or just straight-out asked me what I wanted them to say in the letter. Be sure to answer their questions thoroughly so that they can write you a good letter.

People that are often asked for these letters are teachers, coaches, mentors, relatives, and youth leaders. You can also ask adult family friends who know you well for what is called a “character reference.” They may not know how great you are at Lacrosse, but they CAN say that you are a hard-working and honest person.

Finally, ask for an undated and general letter of recommendation addressed to “whom it may concern” when you can. The rules of the applications may not allow this, but if they do, take advantage of it. These letters of recommendation can be copied and used over and over again. But even if you only get very specific and dated letters, keep copies of them anyway. I copied all mine and put them in a binder that I now take with me to job interviews. I never want to stress like that again!

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Content copyright © 2013 by Dominique Jordan. All rights reserved.
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