According to The Intern Queen, if you’re coming up on the end of a summer job or internship, you should absolutely ask for a recommendation letter to show future employers. She tells you why and explains how in this short video:
This columnist from Forbes sort-of agrees: “In the past, obtaining recommendation letters was a requirement of the job search process. Today, not as much. Now, this step is considered optional, but savvy job seekers understand that it can help give them an edge when it comes to obtaining a position.”
letters of recommendation are not valued much by employers outside of academe. Why? Because skeptical employers think you wrote the letter for the reference to sign; because it’s written in advance, the writer’s had time to soften your weaknesses or omit them, and write those glowing phrases of praise; because it doesn’t permit the employer to ask his or her own questions.
Many people get jobs without recommendations in their job-search toolkit. However, it is vital to have references whom prospective employers can contact. Click here for some useful advice on choosing and soliciting good references.
Turning that wealth of possibility into a job that you want requires some important steps on your part. If you haven’t yet started planning for your post-college career, summer is a great time to start.
Here are some things you can do this summer that will help you after you graduate.
Get experience. A job of any kind will put you ahead. If you were able to land an internship in a professional field that interests you, great–but if you didn’t, any job you take on during the summer can advance you towards your goals.
Pay attention. The better you understand your own strengths and weaknesses, the better you’ll be able to identify opportunities, and any job gives you opportunities to see how you shine. Do you prefer to greet customers or work behind the scenes? Are you better at dealing with a crisis as it unfolds, or at preparing in advance so that a crisis doesn’t happen? What kinds of problems do you most enjoy solving at work? Any job gives you opportunities to understand better what you can bring to any organization.
Explore. Paid employment isn’t the only way to find out more about a line of work that interests you.
Volunteer. Find a not-for-profit organization that you care about and look into ways that you can contribute to their goals. Just like a paid job or involvement in a campus RSO, a volunteer position can be a way to learn more about your strengths (and weaknesses) and acquire the stories that you’ll use to demonstrate your worth to future employers.
Job-shadow. The Career Center here on campus offers a job-shadowing program over the winter and summer breaks, but you can create your own job-shadowing opportunities if there’s a particular career you want to explore.
Write for an audience. If you anticipate applying for jobs that require excellent writing skills, know that many employers will be asking for writing samples. It’s helpful to have material to draw on other than your writing for class. Though you should be strategic about writing for free, getting involved with an online or print publication or creating your own blog can demonstrate your ability to write for a nonacademic audience.
Connect. We all know people, and we all know people who know people. Think of it as building relationships, particularly if that term “networking”–with its overtones of opportunism and fakery–scares you. Not all relationships will be relevant to your career search, and that’s okay. The relationships you build may be relevant to someone else’s job search, or they may contribute to making the world a better place, or they may mean you have a few more friends that you would have had otherwise. It’s all good.
Take inventory. Many people who say, “but I don’t know anyone who might be professionally relevant to me!” turn out to be wrong. Start making a list of the people you know. You may not want to get in touch with all of them this summer, but you may discover that you have more potential contacts than you think.
Stay in touch. Summer is a good time to reach out to people who have shown an interest in your future or to follow up with people you’ve met in the past.
Create or refine your LinkedIn profile. A photo, a catchy headline (NOT “student at the University of Illinois”), and some simple facts about yourself will get you started using this helpful networking resource. Don’t forget to “Connect” with a few people once you’ve created your profile.
Prepare. The school year is going to bring you many opportunities to move towards your eventual career. Summer gives you time to get ready.
Think internships. Internships available through the English department will be advertised shortly before classes start, and other campus opportunities will be available then, too. Give some thought to what kinds of work experiences would help you advance your goals and start preparing your application materials.
Think career fair. Even if you’re not convinced that you want to intern or work for the kind of large-scale employer that can afford to send recruiters to campus, attending the fall Business Career Fair can give you low-stakes practice in talking to employers and introduce you to a broader range of potential jobs. It’s also excellent preparation for the Illini Career Fair in the spring.
Shop. Having a selection of office-appropriate clothes and shoes on hand will allow you to take advantage of on-campus networking or interviewing opportunities that arise. If your wardrobe is mostly t-shirts, shorts, jeans, flip-flops, and sneakers, summer is a good time to browse sales and clearance racks and inexpensively upgrade your look.