It’s a vexing problem for many of us to get recommendations when we finish school, especially when we have little work experience. This can also be a challenge for career-changers and jobseekers who are re-entering the workforce after a COVID pandemic or personal break.
Your instructors and professors in college courses and career certification programs can be great references when you did well in their classes. Here are five steps that can help you get recommendations:
- Choose instructors that knows you well,
- Ask more than one instructor for a recommendation,,
- Make a “formal” request to your professors,
- Give it time,
- Provide supporting documentation, and
- Thank your professors.
A third-party endorsement or recommendation is a powerful adjunct to a resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Professors take the writing of recommendations seriously, and they expect students to do the same. Recommendations reflect not just the quality of the student, but also the integrity of the professor. And that is especially true when you are asking a professor to add a recommendation to your LinkedIn profile because your profile—and their recommendation—will be in public view.
While the guidelines below were designed with recent grads in mind, they can also help career-changers and those returning to the job market. Career-changers and those relaunching careers can reach out to instructors at certification and lifelong learning programs they have attended recently, as well as to professors who taught classes they were in years ago.
Choose instructors who knows you well.
A professor or instructor who knows you well will be able to provide a specific and detailed recommendation. The recommendation will be more valuable for your career documents than a generic recommendation.
An instructor cannot prepare a meaningful recommendation for you when they do not know you well. For example, I have turned down requests for recommendations from jobseekers that attended employment training programs where I was an instructor because I worked briefly with them and saw no examples of their work.
A sound rule is to ask for recommendations only from people that know your work.
Ask more than one professor for recommendations.
This is a big request, and you might not receive a “yes” from every professor or instructor you ask. Ask from two to four professors, but expect to receive recommendations from only one or two of them. You will likely be asking professors from your major or minor studies or those that taught classes closely related to the kind of job you are applying to fill.
Make a “formal” request for each recommendation.
You can send an email to request a recommendation. Explain that you are looking for a recommendation, and when you’d like it returned.
You can also make your request directly through LinkedIn using the “request recommendation” link in the “Recommendation” section on your LI profile.
Whether you use an email, LinkedIn recommendation request, or deliver your request to a professor’s office, you can adapt the wording below to your needs.
“I am preparing my resume and LinkedIn profile and would appreciate the opportunity to include a recommendation/endorsement from you. Specifically, I am looking for 3-5 sentences that would give a prospective employer an idea of how I might be an asset to their organization, based on your knowledge of me (including my skills, knowledge, and experience) and my academic performance in your classroom.
Of course, if you can’t write a recommendation for me, I completely understand. Please do not feel an obligation to say yes. However, if you are willing to provide content for my career materials, I would appreciate it! You can email your response to me at the email address below. Thank you!”
A well written, businesslike, request will improve the chances for a useful response, and enhance your reputation down the road.
Give it time.
If asked for a timeline to return a recommendation, you ideally want to give them a minimum of one or two weeks. Two weeks or up to a month is preferable, especially if you are making this request at a busy time of the academic year. It can pay to be patient, even in today’s hyper-accelerated online world where we expect responses in minutes, if not seconds, much of the time.
Provide supporting documentation.
If it’s been a while since you were in the professor’s class, provide a copy of an updated resume that highlights your relevant experience and skills. You can also provide a copy of a relevant job posting for the type of role you’re pursuing as well as a graded paper or assignment you completed for the professor’s class. Use your best judgement and avoid overwhelming the professor’s inbox.
Thank your professors.
Be sure to send your professor a thank you note when you receive a recommendation. Professors spend a lot of time on these documents; it’s nice to be acknowledged. And be sure to let your professor know if you get the role you’re pursuing!
Thank the instructor for their time even if they say “no.”
Don’t be discouraged if a professor declines to write a recommendation. People are busy — they don’t always have the time. Or they may have personal reasons to decline. If you get a “no” response, work your way down the list and ask another professor! A professor that remembers you may become a valuable contact for years to come. For example, one of the professors at an NYU career advising certificate program still refers clients to me from time-to-time although she taught my class about 23 years ago!