By Anusha Shrivastava, Ph.D.

  Looking for a job can be a full-time job. You have to go through job sites, tweak your resume, customize cover letters and finally, line up references.

  If an employer wants a reference, it may be they will call to speak with a person whose information you’ve shared  – or they may ask for a letter. In either case, when choosing who  serves as your reference, be mindful of who you pick and how you approach them. Ideally, it should be a former supervisor at your job or internship.

  Early in your career, it’s best to reach out to your professors. They are well-equipped to handle your request because they’ve done it frequently and are familiar with your work. The professors are also expecting such requests from students. Make sure you ask professors who know you and can speak to your strengths. Ask if they are comfortable giving you a strong recommendation, If not, you may have to ask someone else.

  • Pick professors whose courses you got the best grades in or handled a tough project with. If a professor had any influence on your decision to apply for a particular job or pursue a field of study, be sure to let him/her know. Also, you could add a line to your request stating why you are asking them to provide the reference. It could be the job is in a field they worked in, for instance.
  • During your course of study, or at your workplace, be sure to keep a list of potential references. Make sure they know your work. Show up for office hours. Get them to know you and your goals. Take permission before you list someone as your reference. Meet them in person to request the reference and if it feels like they are crunched for time, be polite and look for someone else.
  • Provide the recommender with material, like your resume and transcript, so it is less work for them to write a letter.
  • Explain why you want the job. Your passion will shine through and they will likely give you a stronger reference. Share the deadline for the recommendation letter and remind them gently a week before it is due.
  • Do not ask a family member or close friend to be your recommender.
  • Do not ask department administrators to write a letter of recommendation because they are not familiar with your Statistics skills.
  • If you don’t think you’ll get a positive recommendation from your manager or professor, ask a colleague who is familiar with your work – or even a research assistant. You could ask a person who is familiar with your volunteer work. The bottomline is that it has be someone who can comment on your abilities and answer specific questions about your skills and teamwork.
  • Stay in touch with your recommender after the the letter is sent or a verbal reference shared. Thank the person politely at least twice and update with your job search results regularly.

    A good recommendation goes a long way – and so does a heartfelt thank-you note.



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