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The Secret to Getting a Great Letter of Recommendation

Jun 12, 2017

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “What advice do you have for college graduates entering the workforce?” is written by Jessica Philipp, academic dean at the University of Phoenix College of Humanities & Sciences.

Graduates fresh out of college often face the challenge of transitioning from student to working professional. Here are a few tips for landing a job:

Emphasize your soft skills

Employers will expect you to be knowledgeable in your field of study, so accomplishments in this area alone won’t put you over the top in landing the job of your dreams. Employers are going to be more interested in whether you possess the soft skills necessary to get things done.

Highlight your leadership positions in college clubs or organizations for which you actively volunteer. Single out situations where you’ve worked as part of a team—particularly as a manager—and discuss how you dealt with the challenges of a collaborative environment. Provide examples of times that you’ve had to navigate a difficult situation and how you persevered to find a successful resolution.

Use social media to your advantage

Social media sites are great places to highlight your skills and accomplishments. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and that it presents you in a professional light. You’ll want employers and recruiters to see that you’ve been taking your professional development seriously, even from a young age.

Perhaps equally important is making sure that your social media presence isn’t harming your prospects. Take care to enable the proper privacy settings and remove questionable content from your profiles. Employers are increasingly adding a review of candidates’ social media accounts into their hiring process, and you don’t want to be disqualified due to an unprofessional photo or unflattering comment.

Prepare your own letter of recommendation

As an instructor, I receive countless requests from students for letters of recommendation. As much as I want to accommodate every one of these requests, they can be time-consuming. With this in mind, consider offering to help your instructor or supervisor by drafting your own letter of recommendation that they can then edit and sign.

What do you want to highlight about yourself? Think about the skills and areas of expertise that a potential employer will want to know about you. Employers want to understand what you can contribute to their company, instead of just what you are looking for in a position.

Get yourself a mentor

Find a mentor in your area or industry. The best place to start is with your college instructor or a supervisor from an internship with whom you’ve built a solid rapport. They can offer guidance on career opportunities or suggestions on professional contacts to reach out to in your field. Make use of your school’s alumni network as well; they will usually be more than happy to help out a fellow graduate by discussing their career experiences or offering job leads.

There are many important questions to ask your mentor. “What do you wish you could tell yourself when you were just starting out in this industry?” “What would you do differently?” “What steps can I take that would best prepare me to succeed in this field?” Work with your mentor and through your own research to stay abreast of industry trends and best practices.

Even after you land a job, you should keep these suggestions in mind. Keeping active in your professional development is how you build a career and find long-term success.

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