Here are a few tips to consider:
…Help them help you. A quick email detailing what position or program you’re applying for, what skills you’re hoping they can speak to, and attaching a copy of your current resume can help a potential reference verify your qualifications and provide more evidence in support of your application.
…Consider the context. Not all references are created equal. Take time to carefully consider who can give you the best reference. If you’re applying to graduate school, faculty members who have worked with you in your academic area will make the biggest impact. Similarly, if applying for a job, include references from supervisors who can speak about your work style and performance. Cultivate a large network of potential references so that you can pick and choose based on what skills and qualities you’re hoping your reference can vouch for.
…Keep contacts fresh. While faculty, staff, and former supervisors want to support you, it’s hard to do so if you haven’t spoken to them in years. Select recommenders who you’ve worked with for an extended period of time and who you’ve maintained a relationship with. Be sure to stay connected through LinkedIn or email to keep them in the loop with what you’ve been up to. Not only will they enjoy hearing updates, but they’ll be ready to speak to how you’ve grown.
…Say thank you! Show your gratitude for their time by following up and letting them know what happened. They’ll love celebrating your wins with you, and even if you don’t get an offer, they’ll be there looking for ways to show you continued support.
…Assume they’ll say yes. Even for long-standing references and mentors, it’s never good to get a reference call out of the blue. Surprise calls can throw a reference off course if they aren’t sure what you’re going for or how they can best serve as a reference.
…Use family and friends. Recommenders and references should be professional or academic contacts who can speak to your work in context. Recommendations from family and friends may not be taken seriously as the recommendation is clearly biased (of course your mom loves you!), or interviewers may worry that you don’t actually have anyone in your professional life who can speak to your work.
…Wait until the last minute. Writing a good letter of recommendation can take a long time, so be sure to give your contacts plenty of time to write your letter- at least two weeks, and more if you can.
…Forget to follow up. Haven’t heard from your reference? Stay on top of it and be sure to send a reminder. You may want to ask at least one more person to write a letter than you’ll need so that if someone can’t get you a letter in time, you can still complete the application process.