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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Landing a Killer Recommendation Letter


You worked hard all semester finding and landing the perfect summer internship – researching, networking, applying, and polishing up your resume. Now that summer is here, it’s time to dip your toes into the professional world (and hopefully a pool). After putting in the hours at the office this summer, you can make your internship work for you by gaining valuable contacts and a killer recommendation letter from your supervisor. Follow these steps to make a great impression and turn your hard work into the best recommendation letter ever!


Research your employer

Making a good impression begins before you even step into the office. Christy Dunston, a career counselor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, encourages students to research the company they will be interning at so that they can be as prepared as possible on their first day.

“Look to see what new projects are taking place or if the company has been in the news, and research information about the industry to see what trends are taking place,” Dunston says.

Researching your company and industry is the best way to learn the lingo, and being able to “talk the talk” as early as your first day is a surefire way to get your employer’s attention.

“I use Twitter and LinkedIn a lot to see what is going on in my industry—higher education—that way I can talk shop with other professionals,” Dunston says. “If a student was talking with me and referenced an article… about higher education, I would be very impressed.”

Don’t wait until your first day to start learning from your internship! Make sure to browse the company’s website, social media, and any relevant news stories so that you know your stuff and talk the talk before you even find your cubicle.

Make your social media profiles professional

You landed a great internship – fantastic! But as with any job, getting hired is only half the battle. Don’t let your social media presence make a bad impression for you before you get the chance to make a great impression in person. “It is important to monitor or censor your social media posts and pictures, even after you have landed the internship,” Dunston says.

According to Forbes, about two in five employers screen their candidates’ and employees’ social media profiles. Of those employers, most say they use social media to see if their potential employees are professional or not. You may be dying to document the end of finals and the beginning of summer on your social media accounts, but your employer isn’t dying to see those crazy drunk selfies or tweets.

But it’s not just those scandalous pictures that can get you into trouble. It’s also important to refrain from posting anything negative about your internship on social media, as companies sometimes monitor these posts as well.

“Some companies monitor social media sites to see when their name shows up for anything, good or bad, on the Internet,” Dunston says. “As an intern, if you wrote something bad about the company, you wouldn’t want it to get back to your supervisor.”

Whether your employer screens your social media presence or not, you should always think before you post. You never know what your next employer will do, but if you monitor your posts, you can control what they see! As Dunston says, “it is best to think about anything you post on social media, because once it is online, you can’t take it back.”

First Day

Get there early

This one should be a no-brainer, collegiettes. Being punctual, especially on your first day, is essential to making a good impression. Set a back-up alarm (or three) and give yourself enough time to maneuver through morning rush hour.

“I would suggest for an intern to arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes early,” Dunston says. “Arriving early allows you to have some buffer time if you get lost or miss a bus or anything that can happen unexpectedly.”

Additionally, it’s a good idea to maintain that level of punctuality throughout the summer. Don’t push the minutes a few weeks into your internship. Try to find a morning routine early on that gives you enough time to get ready, eat a good breakfast, commute safely, and arrive on time.

Dress appropriately for the office

It can be hard to determine the level of professional dress at your internship when you haven’t actually been there yet. Do they expect a full-fledged pantsuit, or will a sundress and a blazer suffice? To avoid confusion and a potentially awkward situation on your first day, Dunston encourages interns to ask about the dress code before showing up for the job.

“That way, you will dress appropriately,” she says. “Different work environments have different dress codes, so it is always better to ask before you get there.”

Once you know what type of attire is expected, make sure to stick to that dress code! As always, it’s important to look as appropriate and professional as possible on the job. To put together the perfect professional look, check out HC’s internship-friendly wardrobe choices.

During Your Internship

Ask for more responsibilities

If your internship seems to be teaching you more about Xerox machines than your future career, you should consider asking your supervisor for a more active role in ongoing projects.

“I think it is okay to ask for more responsibilities as an intern,” Dunston says. “I think being specific about how your skills could help with a specific project or assignment could help your supervisor realize the benefit you would bring to the team.”

Asking for more responsibilities also shows your employer that you are motivated and enthusiastic about the job. Even if you can’t help with the specific project you suggested, your supervisor may think of you when another assignment comes along.

“If you ask and your supervisor says no, then that’s alright,” Dunston says. “The next time a new assignment or project comes around, the supervisor may think of you and ask you to be a part of the team.”

Only send work e-mails at work

Texting and tweeting are obvious no-nos for your internship etiquette, but so is sending personal e-mails from your professional account.

“I would not send personal e-mails from a work account because you may send something that is supposed to be personal, and it goes out to your work colleagues instead,” Dunston says. “It is important to understand the company policy about e-mailing and use of social media on the job before sending out personal e-mails from your work account or getting on the Internet.”

Whether your employer screens your e-mails or not, don’t get too comfortable mixing business and pleasure—especially not if you expect a professional recommendation down the road!


Thank your supervisor and colleagues

Before you head back to school in the fall, make sure you say your goodbyes at work. Thank your supervisor for the experience you have gained, as well as any colleagues in the office who helped you along the way.

“At the end of my internship, I wrote a thank-you note to my supervisor and gave her a personal gift,” Dunston says. “I sent a mass thank-you e-mail to all of the people in the department, and I walked around to everyone in the office and said a personal thank-you as well.”

Dunston explains that it is up to you as an intern to determine the most appropriate way to thank your employer and colleagues. Each work environment is different, and in some cases it may not be practical to walk around the entire office saying thank you.

“For your supervisor, though, a thank-you note, particularly a hand-written note, is always appreciated,” she says.

Thanking your supervisor and colleagues can also lead to a helpful professional network down the road.

Keep in touch

Throughout your internship, you are sure to meet all kinds of professionals in your industry, and networking with them in this way is vital to your future career success. In order to use your new arsenal of professional contacts to your advantage, you have to build a relationship with them that extends beyond the initial introduction. Reach out to your employer and coworkers even when the internship has ended so that you can maintain a professional relationship with them and stay current on the inner workings of the industry.

“LinkedIn is a great resource to use to stay in contact with the professionals you met during the internship,” Dunston says. “Also, you can e-mail your supervisor or coworkers about your professional updates or information you are learning in school related to the industry.”

Ask for a recommendation

Another no-brainer – if you want a recommendation letter, you have to ask!

Dunston explains that recommendations can take many forms, such as a LinkedIn recommendation or a formal letter for a grad school application, and the rules for getting each type can vary.

“If you have a LinkedIn profile and would like the employer to make a recommendation on LinkedIn, then you could ask before you leave the internship,” she says. “If you need a recommendation letter for another internship, scholarship, or graduate school, I would suggest waiting to ask until you need that specific letter.”

As always, make sure to give your supervisor plenty of notice for the recommendation letter, including details about any criteria you have and the deadline. “I would try to ask, at the minimum, four weeks before the due date for a letter of recommendation,” Dunston says.


From before you start to well after you finish, the work you do and the relationships you build during your internship can take you from intern to employee and beyond with the help of a great recommendation letter. Good luck, career-minded collegiettes!

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