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The internship series

How to secure a letter of recommendation from your internship

A simple process for interns seeking letters of recommendation.

Making the leap from internship to full-time career tends to be more of a “hop” for most, as more than 60% of paid interns find work after their internship term. Many of these students are filling in full time roles as they become available during their internship.

Sometimes, though, these roles just never materialize. What happens then? What can you do to ensure your future success if your employer is unable to offer you a job?

Hopefully, you’ve made a great impression on both your peers and supervisors, because you might need to leverage their opinions. A letter of recommendation may be the springboard you need to transition into your career.

You should be prepared to ask early

Thanks to packed schedules and demanding workloads, you’re less likely to get that letter of rec if you don’t ask your supervisor, manager, or team lead(s) early. Unfortunately, this is the one step where anxiety befalls most students, causing them to end a great internship experience without ever obtaining a game-changing letter. To avoid this pitfall, start the conversation at the beginning of your internship. More often than not, your boss will be elated to help you with a letter of recommendation.

Identify who you will ask

Not every letter of recommendation is created equally. Don’t seek a letter from a CEO just because she’s the CEO; ask someone who knows you and can help you shine on paper. Here are a few rules of thumb when asking for a letter:

Don’t assume they’ll write you a letter.

Inquire whether they’ve known you long enough and are comfortable with writing a strong letter of recommendation. A great start to the conversation should sound something like, “I’m considering applying to [insert title], and they require my [insert recommender title] write a strong letter of recommendation. Are you able to provide me with one?”

Communicate concisely to express your needs clearly and show respect for the potential recommender’s time. Be courteous when asking and avoid “could you” and “will you” questions.

Ask whether they need anything from you

Ideally, you’ll have a work journal documenting your progress, successes, and involvement at your internship. Your manager likely works closely with dozens or hundreds of individuals, and he may have a hard time remembering the specifics. Be prepared to:

  • Describe the nature of the letter, indicating the position it’s intended for
  • Provide the name and title of the recipient
  • Share pertinent deadline details (make sure to provide ample time) and how the letter will be delivered (e.g., sent directly to future employer/school or to you via email)
  • Highlight of your time at the internship
  • Actually write the letter yourself, as there might be a time when the recommender is too busy to write it

There are times a recommender may be too busy to write it. If the latter is requested, make sure to provide it to the recommender for a signature on letterhead formatting.

Follow up

With the deadline approaching, it’s okay to ask your recommender for a status update, but try not to badger. If you’ve asked for your letter early on, asking once every one to two weeks should be plenty.

Send updates and thank-yous

Keep your recommender updated throughout the process. Let them know if you got the job... they’ll be glad to hear it! A thank-you note would also be greatly appreciated.

Ask if you can list your recommender as a reference

Boost your resume by including your recommenders’ contact information in the references section (with permission, of course). Keep your Handshake resume up-to-date with new references, as potential employers may be interested in a candidate who is endorsed by their professional peers.

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