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Can I Use You As a Reference?

August 1, 2011

A strong reference can differentiate you from the stack of applicants with similar experience. But should you choose the middle manager who knows you, or the C.E.O. who smiles while greeting you by the wrong name?


Give your writer at least two weeks and a brief outline to put together your reference.

By Alex Braun

It’s about that time, summer interns. As your last weeks wind to a close, you’ll want to make sure you take away something tangible from your experience that can help your career. A reference is one good place to start.

Here are some tips for getting great recommendations.

1. Limit reference requests to people familiar with your work.

As tempting as it may sound to get a top-level executive as your advocate, it’s very easy to tell when reference writers are grasping at straws. Plus, being put in that situation can damage the writer’s opinion of you.

2. Decide what type of reference letter would suit you the most.

If you’re applying to graduate school or have a specific job in mind, it can be especially powerful to have the letter addressed and written specifically for that purpose. However, if you’re still on the fence, you might prefer to have something general that can be reused.

3. Draft an outline of suggested topics, including successful projects you worked on.

This saves time for your writer and will probably result in a clearer and more compelling finished document.

4. Make an appointment.

Choose a time — ideally¬† a couple weeks before your internship ends — when your writer is not likely to be very busy. Begin by thanking him or her for guiding you throughout your internship, and then ask¬† politely for a one-page letter of reference.

5. Repeat with someone else.

It may be that your top choice lags or simply forgets to write your letter before you leave. In that case, it’s better to have a backup plan than to pester the same person repeatedly. In any case, some jobs or schools ask for multiple written references.

6. Send a thank-you note.

Writing a thoughtful reference can take some not insignificant effort, so make sure you show your appreciation with a thank-you note. Gifts aren’t appropriate, but a few kind words can go a long way to cement a lasting, positive impression.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric Woodard August 1, 2011 at 12:41 pm

These are great, I would just add one more…

7) Stay in touch with your internship supervisors. After your internship ends, drop them a note every couple of months to let them know how you are doing. Even better – let them know when you wind up using something you learned during your internship or…if you are going to be involved with a project/event relating to your internship. If you hear about your internship host doing something special where you might be able to help, reach out and offer to lend a hand…even if that means putting your intern name tag back on for a day long after your internship is over.


fear of flying December 9, 2011 at 1:36 am

My partner and i like reading through this. I may publish this on digg. I am convinced you will get quite a few thumbs up


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