Many companies heavily rely on letters of recommendation in their hiring procedures, especially when they hire recent graduates.
While transcripts and test scores can give them some general understanding of your abilities, they still know virtually nothing of you.
Nothing distinguishes you from dozens of other applicants with similar credentials. A few recommendation letters from the faculty of your university can go a long way towards rectifying this situation. So, how does one go about obtaining them?
Let’s take a look at a few strategies.
1. Focus on Building Relationships from the Outset
While it may be awhile before you start applying for jobs, start building and maintaining relationships with professors from your very first year in college.
After all, the longer you know a person, the more likely s/he is to give you a good or even outstanding recommendation.
Even if you do not intend to pursue a formal career right now and intend to be a freelance specialist, it won’t hurt to maintain good relationships with some members of the faculty – it can become a useful foundation for your future professional network.
2. Consider Taking Smaller Classes
The smaller the class size is, the easier it is to stand out, get to know your professor, and build a strong relationship with him/her. You still can achieve your goal irrespectively of the class size, but in a large class, you will have to apply a lot of extra effort to do so.
3. Make Use of Professors’ Office Hours
While addressing a faculty member might feel intimidating, try to overcome your misgivings and do it anyway. Office hours are arranged for specifically this purpose – so that professors can offer their consulting services to students so that you have an opportunity to talk to your professor, discuss his/her class and your shared interests.
Discuss the manuscript of that paper you write, ask for the professor’s opinions, or even just express interest in the professor’s own career path and what led him/her to his/her current position.
4. Maintain Your Relationships
Once you have managed to build rapport with a professor via your activity in class, discussions, scientific research, and other methods, make sure you maintain it over time.
Make it a rule to drop by during office hours at least once per term to keep and touch and discuss your plans. Many professors enjoy talking to their former students and watching over their progress over time.
5. Don’t Shy Away from Asking for a Recommendation Letter
Asking for a recommendation letter does not mean asking your professors to go out of their way for your sake. It is a normal procedure. Most of them had the same service done for them at the beginning of their careers in science and teaching.
6. Learn What Kind of Letters You Need
Make sure you understand what kind of recommendation letter your graduate school or potential employer is going to be more interested in, for you will not have an opportunity of editing it later on.
For example, graduate schools are more interested in letters from tenured professors who taught you in an academic setting rather than instructors or lecturers.
7. Ask for Letters from Professors Who Really Know You
While getting a recommendation from a well-known professor with multiple peer-reviewed papers published in many scholarly journals can be tremendously useful, it only goes for detailed, substantial letters.
If, on the other hand, such a famous professor barely knows you, s/he may still agree to give you a rec letter, but it is going to be a perfunctory one, which will be immediately obvious to anybody who is going to read it.
Therefore, ask the professors who know you best and may be willing to spend a little extra effort to write the recommendation.
8. Give the Recommender the Necessary Materials
While you may think that your English professor knows you well, s/he has to deal with dozens, if not hundreds, of other students.
To make sure you get a detailed and accurate letter that will not require editing and proofreading, give the professor all your application materials: the application brochure or at least its most important sections, copies, or manuscripts of your application essays, recounting of your work and research experience, your student transcript and so on.
If a professor particularly cares about you, s/he can even become a sort of editor and suggest corrections and improvements to some of the documents. Having someone genuinely interested in your career look at them can be better than hiring specialized scientific editing services.
While a recommendation letter alone will not land you a scholarship or a position with a prestigious company, it can still greatly improve your chances compared to other applicants without such a boost. In other words, it is not a tool you can neglect.