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When it comes time to graduate everyone is going to need a reference or recommendation from a supervisor and/or professor. Sometimes jobs, gap year programs, professional schools or graduate schools will require that you have two letters of recommendation with an additional two references. (Yes there can be a difference between someone who writes you a letter of recommendation and someone who you list as a reference, which I will talk more about in a minute). Also remember that applying for grants and/or scholarships will also ask for a recommendation.

It is really imperative that you realize the importance of a recommender or reference, it’s extremely important! Getting the interview is all up to you, and shining during your interview is also very important, but it is just as important to have a recommender who can speak very highly of you.  As a CDI, I have had the opportunity to help interview potential CDI applicants in the past and it allowed me to see for myself the importance of a recommender. Based on the criteria, we selected our top candidates to be interviewed and after conducting the interviews, we began calling the recommenders for the top 5-6 candidates. During this time I was able to hear directly from the recommenders and it was apparent which candidates chose the best recommenders. I could tell in the ways that the recommender got excited when explaining how awesome they thought their student or co-worker was or how they did not hesitate to answer any questions. In the end what the recommenders had to say played a big part in our decision to offer a position to a candidate.  The reason being is that the recommender is really the best way to find out more about a candidate’s work ethic and personality, besides what the interviewee brings to the table during the interview. Here are some common questions that I feel people come across when asking for a recommendation. Good luck!

What is the difference between a reference and a recommender?

Sometimes the two are used interchangeably, but for the most part a recommender is someone that may write you a letter of recommendation or an interviewer may call this person after interviewing you to find out more about your skills or work-ethic and overall what they think of you. If a job or program requires both a reference and a recommender, a reference is usually someone that they will contact after having already contacted your recommender, to find out more if needed.

Who can I ask to be a reference or recommender?

The hardest thing to do is to find someone that knows you well enough that is not a friend or family member—most references or recommenders cannot be either of these two. The best thing I have found is that it is important to have a recommender from a part-time job and an academic recommender, like a professor. It is definitely easier to have a supervisor as a recommender; the academic recommender is when it gets hard. One of my academic recommenders is a professor that I had freshmen year. I used to visit her a lot during her office hours for help and sometimes to just chat. She was someone that I was comfortable talking with and I did not even realize at the time that I would ask her one day for a recommendation. The point is that you should ask someone that you have developed a relationship with. I may have received better grades in other classes with other professors, but I chose this specific professor because of our relationship and I knew that if and when I asked her to write me a letter of recommendation, she would not mind at all.

How do I go about asking this reference or recommender and what do they need to write the recommendation?

Some people are afraid to ask for a recommendation, but the truth of the matter is that if you know this person well enough and they know you well enough, you will not feel like you are burdening them when you ask. This is truly how you know if you are choosing the best recommender. If you have to think twice about whether or not they will say yes, then you should probably consider asking someone else. In the past I have found that it is easier to come prepared and ask in person. I have taken my resume, description for the job or scholarship, and a list of things I would like them to talk about in the letter or over the phone if contacted that way. I do not usually hand them the list, instead I have it as a reference for myself so that I do not forget to mention these things to my recommender. I usually e-mail the recommender and schedule a meeting time where we talk a little and then I ask them. When they say yes I hand them the folder with all the needed materials, do not forget the envelope and stamp if needed, and it is very important to give them at least 2 weeks before the recommendation is due. I even go as far as 1 month! Also, since some recommendations are done online now, it is important to remind yourself to remind them when it is due so that they do not forget.

Is it appropriate to ask the same person to be a recommender or reference more than once?

Yes. Again it is just going to come down to if you will like you are burdening them, then you should just not ask. My recommender has told me constantly that she does not mind at all, and it is just a reassurance that I have chosen the best recommender.

How do I thank them appropriately for begin a reference or recommender?

After a recommendation has been completed I would thank them over e-mail at first and then thank them again in person. Currently one of my recommenders moved to another school so I have just recently decided that I will mail her a thank-you card and maybe put in a $5.00 gift card to Starbucks or something small for her office. It is not necessary to give a recommender something with monetary value, but I just feel that this is appropriate as I have used this recommender for at least 15 times in the past, and I have just recently accepted a position which would have never been possible without her recommendation. Again it is just going to be about how comfortable you are with them and what you feel would be appropriate.

Now you get out there and start forming relationships with professors, student organization supervisors, or part-time employee managers, because you are going to need their help in the future! J