Journalists are often in a constant state of applications — always on the lookout for the next great position or fellowship opportunity and submitting work for contests.
Many of these opportunities require letters of recommendation, which is a sore point for recommenders and applicants alike.
However, there are a number of ways to make the process less painful — and the letter more powerful.
Here are four tips to keep in mind when requesting a letter of recommendation:
1. Choose someone who is familiar with your work.
“I’ve noticed that sometimes people tend to go to someone high up in an organization, but that person doesn’t really know your work that well,” said Patrick Butler, vice president of programs at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).
Although it seems that a recommendation letter from someone with a lofty title would carry more weight, this actually tends to work against your application because the letter tends to be bland and generic.
Butler suggests choosing someone lower in the organization with in-depth and personal knowledge of your work is actually much more powerful.
“I would rather receive a personalized recommendation from a manager or colleague whose name I don’t recognize than a generic recommendation from Jeff Bezos,” said Jacqueline Strzemp, ICFJ program director.
2. Find connections.
“If I know the person who is recommending the candidate, that gives me a lot more trust in the candidate,” said Butler.
Use LinkedIn, Facebook or other social networking sites to find connections between the people at the position you’re applying to and those within your own network. You might be surprised by the connections you find, and it can strengthen your recommendation letter.
3. Make it easy on your recommender.
Rosental Alves, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said the biggest mistake he’s seen from students asking for a letter of recommendation is sending him a short email without providing any resources or specific information.
This includes anything relevant that might help your recommender write the letter. Above all, provide your resume, the description of the position you’re applying to and clippings of your recent work.
“I always like to see bullet points of their career and highlights,” added Alves.
Giving a short, accurate and up-to-date list of accomplishments ensures that your recommender will have a comprehensive view of your qualifications — even if some details are left out of the letter itself.
Remember that people like Butler and Alves receive a lot of requests for letters of recommendation, so it’s important to make the process as painless as possible.
“It’s a lot of work but we want to help,” said Alves, “I appreciate when people help me to help them.”
Be aware of how much information you’re sending so that you don’t go overboard. Although candidates’ biggest mistake is not sending any information, sending too much can also be damaging. Do some work ahead of time to determine what’s most relevant and include it with your request for a letter.
Awards or experiences unrelated to the position or fellowship you’re applying to should be left out.
“I look for information that directly ties to what the person is applying for,” said Strzemp. “I look for the recommender selling me on exactly why this one specific person would fit the position I’m looking to fill.”
4. Give your recommender time.
People are busy. It’s important to give people who would write your letter a heads up as early as possible. As soon as you find an opportunity that requires a letter of recommendation, compile your materials and reach out to your contacts.
A letter of recommendation can make or break an application — but it doesn’t have to be a hassle. Follow these tips to make things easier on yourself — and your recommender.