Asking for a Reference

So, you're in the middle of a summer job and it's going really well.  You're learning a lot about the industry you're working in, strengthening your office skills and even making some money.  What's more, you seem to have a great rapport with your boss.  Perhaps in the next few weeks, you might consider asking him or her for a reference and/or recommendation.  After all, you may need one for your next job/internship or upcoming scholarship and college applications.  Of course, this begs the question - how should you go about this (potentially intimidating) task?

To begin with, when asking for a reference or recommendation, it's best to inquire in person or over the phone if possible.  This generally helps make it a warmer, more affable exchange.  Email often feels less personal and your request can easily get buried within an inbox.

No matter your approach, it's smart to let your potential references know about your next steps and future plans.  This will obviously provide some insight into why you're asking and help inform their decisions.  You also want to couch the favor in a manner that doesn't place pressure on the individuals and lets them gently turn you down if need be.  Ask if they'd feel comfortable advocating for you and if their schedules would allow for it.  And do not operate on the assumption that they will say yes.

If you sense some hesitation on anyone's part, it makes sense to rethink your references.  Don't use a person who says yes simply to be nice.  You don't need someone who will provide a lackluster recommendation.  A hollow reference is virtually the same as soliciting a negative one.  You want to be confident in knowing this person will speak highly of you.

Moreover, never list references without checking with them first.  Even if they think the world of you, it's polite (and proper professional etiquette) to inquire beforehand.  In addition, you also want to give them a heads up after you've given their names out.  You don't want references caught off-guard or feeling wholly unprepared when a call comes in, seemingly out of the blue.  A little notice will be greatly appreciated and allow your references time to reflect on your skills and assets.

You should also share specifics about the position, scholarship, etc. to which you're applying.  This will let your references tailor their comments accordingly and likely help strengthen the recommendations.  Further, think about sending your references a cheat sheet - overviews of the projects you worked together, reports you wrote, scenarios in which you went above and beyond.  The more detail they are able to include, the better the references will be.

Finally, it's always a good idea to follow up.  Tell your references/recommenders if you landed that coveted gig, were accepted at your top school or if you received that prestigious scholarship.  And let them know if you're still applying to colleges, remaining on the job hunt, etc.  Most importantly, thank them for their time and assistance.  It doesn't take a lot to demonstrate gratitude and it can go a long way.

As we stated above, asking for a reference can be a slightly nerve-wracking experience.  Unfortunately, it's often standard professional practice.  However, if you follow the advice outlined in this article, you should get through the ordeal relatively unscathed!

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