Getting the Right Letter of Reference

Standing out from your peers, whether it be for a job application, scholarship, or even school admissions can be challenging, so how do you make sure your applications shine through? The answer: a strong reference letter.

So, what exactly is the purpose of a reference letter?

A reference letter is crucial for attesting to your character, and the accomplishments listed in your resumé or application form. A letter of reference comes from someone you've worked with who knows you well and can speak to your work ethic and personal qualities.

Who should you ask for a reference letter?

Many jobs, scholarships, and schools will ask for one or more letters of reference, so who should you ask to write them? It's important to ask someone who knows you in a professional or academic setting. Don't ask someone who knows you in your personal life. The worst person to ask would be a friend or family member.

Try to choose someone whose background fits the application you're submitting. If you're applying for a science program in university, or for a STEM based scholarship, it might be beneficial to ask someone like your science teacher.

How should you ask for a reference letter?

When asking for a reference letter, it's important to be respectful of the time of whomever you're asking. Ask at least a few weeks before your application is due to give your reference time to write. You'll allow your referee more time to write and polish a fitting review of your skill set, and give them a good impression of your positive attitude time management skills.

When gathering reference letters, it's helpful to ask for more than you require. This is because some references may be better for certain purposes than others. It's good to have multiple options — but don't sweat it if you only have one or two to go with for every application.

Finally, if you have a good relationship with someone who knows you well professionally, ask them for a reference letter — even if you don't need it right away! It might pay off in future to have a reference letter prepared, instead of going back to ask later.

Good luck on your applications!

PS: No matter who you ask, send a thank you note! Nothing is classier than a thank you note to a professional contact who's done you a favour, so send a quick email or drop off a letter. Don't stress about it, just a quick, cordial thank you does the trick.

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