Unlike your personal and professional references, which are used to help secure a job offer, letters of recommendation can be a powerful tool to utilize during the application process. There are lots of questions surrounding letters of recommendation such as who to get them from when to ask for them, what format should they be in, and more. In order to help you understand their importance, let’s start from the top.
A letter of recommendation
is a letter written by an individual who is familiar with an applicant and can speak to their professional skills and qualifications. For new nurses, these letters can come from academic faculty, clinical instructors, lab instructors, preceptors, and/or previous managers. The letters are personal and describe the attributes they have witnessed that they feel will make the applicant worthy of a job. It used to be that letters of recommendation were sealed in envelopes so that only the prospective employer would have the chance to read them, however, that is not really the case anymore, and if it is, you will receive a personal copy for you to review.
While cover letters
are important, they are your words and can yield a skewed version of who you are. Letters of recommendation provide the reader with useful additional information that is being told through the lens of a peer, so they often times carry more weight. Since they are being written by your peers, it is important that the person writing the letter has a strong view of who you are and what you are capable of doing. You do not want to ask your clinical instructor who gave you weak scores and repeatedly told you that you needed to improve. Why? Well, the person you have writing your letter of recommendation isn’t obligated to write you a glowing review. This is their letter and they can write whatever they want. I know it may sound scary, but there have been moments when students have asked an individual to write a letter, and the letter did not turn well for the applicant.
Although you might think it’s overdoing it, the moment you step foot inside of the nursing school is the moment you should start preparing for getting that first job. You want to make a good impression on all those you come in contact with. What are the most powerful tools you can create in landing a job? Networking and building relationships! During every class, you should be trying to form a relationship with your professors. Let them know who you are and what your goals are. It might not be in your DNA, but participation in class goes a long way for a professor. It shows that you are engaged, curious, and ready to learn. Once the class is finished, visit them every once in a while, in their office to discuss the material. Ask them to share their story, ask them for advice, ask them what their favorite color is, anything to get the two of you talking. The more they know who you are, what you can do, and what you want, the better the letter of recommendation. At the end of the semester, say thank you for spending time with you and helping you understand the material, and then ask them the question, “Would you mind writing me a letter of recommendation?”. The only time I have seen this fail has been when a student and professor had no relationship once so ever, and the professor told the student, “I would, but I don’t feel like I know you well enough to write you a solid letter of recommendation”. So, make sure that when asking someone for a letter of recommendation, you know you well.
As just mentioned, it is important to ask for letters of recommendation when you are fresh in their memory. Waiting until the last semester to ask your first-semester clinical instructor for a letter of recommendation will not only frustrate the hell out of whoever you are asking, but the letter will probably not be what you were expecting.
How many letters of recommendation should I aim to obtain? As many as possible! Three should be your goal. One from your clinical instructor in your desired specialty, one from an academic faculty, and one from a preceptor. If you can get two academic faculty, this will give you the power of choosing the best one to submit. The same goes for if you are able to get two from clinical instructors, choosing the best one to submit. We just briefly glossed over it, but it’s important that you get a letter of recommendation from someone within the specialty you are choosing to pursue. For example, if you have your heart set on pediatrics, make sure you get a letter of recommendation from your clinical or academic instructor or both for that matter. Remember, you are trying to stand out amongst other applicants in the interview
, and have glowing letters of recommendation might just be the thing to push the hiring manager to invite you for that.
What format should my letters of recommendation be in? Well, this all depends on the hospital, to be honest. When asking for letters of rec, ask the individual to please provide a paper copy with ink signature, and a digital copy with contact information. It’s also a good idea to float the idea that you they might be getting an email from you in the future asking to fill out an online letter of recommendation form. Since you are asking someone to help you land a job, it’s a good idea to keep in touch with them once you graduate. You don’t have to write a long novel, like this article, but just a simple hello and update on what’s new with you. Maybe ask them if they have any advice on landing that first job? Anything to ensure you stay fresh on their mind and to show your appreciation for the writing you a letter of recommendation.
Additional Read: How to Write a Nursing Reference Letter
So, there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Letters of recommendation are important! Connect with your nursing school faculty and nurture those relationships because they are the ones writing about how great you are.