Reference me that recommendation, please.
February 18, 2009 7:43 AM   Subscribe

How should I approach my professors for recommendation/reference letters for a job that doesn't yet exist?

I'm trying to wrap my mind around the situation, but I can't quite figure out how to work everything out in a tidy manner. So... Hivemind to the rescue! :)

I'm a current senior in college. I'm spending my last semester abroad. My study abroad lasts from March until August. So while my friends are graduating and "hitting the pavement," I'll have a very late start in hunting for a job.

Alas, I don't know what job I'll go into after college. It'll hopefully be something creative--writing, graphic design, etc.--but that's all I know.

I've been staying on-campus for the past six weeks. But I'll be kicked out of the dorms on Sunday. (Literally: someone's moving in my room that following Monday!)

My problems:

1) I'm leaving campus this Sunday. This week could be the last time I ever see my professors.
2) I'd love some recommendation/reference letters for future jobs from my professors while I'm still fresh in their minds. The problem is, how can they write a letter without knowing what job I want?
2b) Should I ask for them to emphasize my character? Traits that are in both fields of graphic design and writing?
3) There's no way that they can complete a letter in the next few days. I was thinking of giving my professors a SASE addressed to my parents' house so that they can send the rec letters at their leisure. But is that the best idea?
4) Am I overthinking this? ;)

So, to summarize: I think that it would be a great idea to go ahead and get some rec/ref letters from my professors before I leave for a study abroad. That way, when I get back from Europe, I can immediately hunt for a job. But I'm leaving for Europe soon, and I have no idea what job I'll be hunting for.

If you have any advice, that'd be awesome. Thanks in advance!
posted by ElectricBlue to Education (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This really isn't much of an issue. Just tell your professors that you'd really appreciate a letter of recommendation from them for your file, as you'll be applying for jobs at the end of the summer and would like to be ready when that time comes. They shouldn't have any problem with this.

The content isn't that much of an issue either. Ask your writing professors for letters that emphasize your writing skills and your design professors for letters that emphasize your design skills. Recommenders generally write rather generic letters which can be used in multiple contexts. There are really only two contexts in which you'll want something different: they know the employer personally, or the position is significantly unconventional, i.e. you're applying for grad school, a prestigious fellowship, the priesthood, etc. Otherwise, a general-purpose letter will be fine for most job applications.

On the issue of where to actually receive the letters, this is what career services offices are for. Have them email their letters to your institution's CSO, which will maintain a file for you and send recommendations, electronic or hard copy, to any potential employer you like.

Ask politely, explain your situation, and you'll be fine.
posted by valkyryn at 8:06 AM on February 18, 2009

4) Yes, you are overthinking this.

"Hi Prof, I'm getting ready for my trip to Europe and when I get back I'm going to begin job hunting, mostly in creative fields - writing, graphic design, etc.. With things being the way they are I think I am going to need all the help I can get so I was hoping that you could write a general letter of recommendation for me. I brought some SASE so you can just mail it to my folks who will hold onto it till I return." *hand envelope* "I won't be back till (X date) so anytime before then would be fine. Thanks again for all your time this last four years I really enjoyed learning from you."

On preview: Pretty much what valkryn said.
posted by Bango Skank at 8:11 AM on February 18, 2009

IAAP, and my students regularly ask me if I'll write refs for them at some point in the indeterminate future. Not a problem.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:17 AM on February 18, 2009

I finished my schooling in 2007, and applied to law school for the coming year. And, of course, I needed an academic reference. So I emailed one of my profs whom I haven't seen in about 2 years if he would be so kind as to write a recommendation, and he wrote back pretty quickly with an "of course, my pleasure". Mailed him a bunch of preset envelopes1, and that was that.

From my experiences as a student & as the son of a professor, I can guarantee you that they've dealt with similar situations to yours in the past. As long as you're reasonably coordinated, they'll be happy to help out.

1: The requirement that the applicant does not send out the recommendation letters is the stupidest thing ever.
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:21 AM on February 18, 2009

Why not just talk to the relevant professors and tell them that you will be looking for a job in the future and when that future arrives, will they be willing to send out letters to the appropriate places?

I think your emphasis on "fresh in their minds" is unnecessary. You will be providing them with a copy of your CV and a short paragraph telling them about the job you're applying for and which of your skills you'd like to be emphasized along with any appropriate writing/graphics samples. I think having a letter personalized to the job you're applying for is more professional than a general letter. Also, having a letter of rec sent to you and then sent to a company is unusual; these letters are generally confidential and the scenario you're proposing would not allow for that.

Stopping by offices this week and asking in advance will probably impress faculty - most of the time requests are at the last minute and phrased as a demand.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:24 AM on February 18, 2009

I am a professor and valkyryn is right.

When you return from Europe, a courtesy e-mail to the professors letting them know what you learned and did would be the icing on the cake. It also gives them a chance to update their letters if they wish.
posted by vincele at 12:18 PM on February 18, 2009

Also a professor, and ditto valkyryn and everyone else. Most schools have some kind of career office that will keep a file of letters for you -- and send them out when you do apply for jobs.
posted by kestrel251 at 1:31 PM on February 18, 2009

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