On average, a job that is advertised on a public forum will attract 118 applicants. This is great news for the hiring company, as they have a huge pool of qualified candidates to choose from. But for the job seeker, this number can be discouraging. It can be difficult to stand out in a crowd of that size — and to be one of the 23 percent of candidates that will nab a coveted interview spot.

One way to get your résumé noticed is to have a glowing reference letter. And while you may know that a great reference letter can set an application apart, for many job seekers, asking for a reference is a huge source of anxiety. You may not want to impose on a former boss or mentor by asking too much of their time, or you may be worried you’ll get turned down. Or, even worse, you may receive a letter that does little to acknowledge your individual accomplishments and strengths.

To that end, we’re sharing some pro tips for requesting an enthusiastic and personalized reference letter.

Read on for some ways to ensure your next reference letter will not only get you noticed but will bring you one step closer to landing that dream job.

Choose who to ask wisely
The first mistake most job seekers make is not thinking too deeply about who they’re asking for a reference letter. Chances are, any former boss, mentor, or professor would have something positive to say about you as a person and employee, but the strongest reference letters contain more than generalities. Is the job you’re applying for a management position? If so, ask for a letter from a professor who’s seen you take the reigns on group projects. Does the role require you to learn a lot of new skills? Ask for a letter from your mentor who’s watched you develop as a professional, and can attest to the fact that you’re a quick learner.

Look at the demands of the job listing and find a reference who can attest to the fact that you have the necessary skills and experiences. Even better, identify the gaps between your résumé and the job listing and find someone who can help bridge them by speaking to your personal strengths.

Provide a template
Asking the right person for a reference letter is a necessary first step, but even then there’s no guarantee that they’ll include all the pertinent information you’d like them to. It’s also inconsiderate to ask for a favor of this size without providing necessary guidance. Supplying a template, then, is the perfect way to ensure your reference letter will hit all the right points.

Offer a few bullet points of the types of projects/accomplishments/acquired skills you’d like the letter to highlight. This can be a great refresher of the things you two worked on together over the years, and they’ll appreciate how much time you saved them by doing the work of remembering for them.

Say “please” and “thank you”
How you approach asking for a letter of recommendation can have a huge impact on the type of letter you receive. Be polite and courteous, acknowledging that this is a major favor on their behalf. Let your reference know why you chose them: is it because you value their professional opinion of you? Why? Because you enjoyed your time working for them? Why? The language you use in your ask will more than likely be mirrored in their reply. Also, give them an out. Let them know if they don’t feel comfortable providing a letter, or simply can’t fit it into their schedule.

Once you receive that letter, always respond with a genuine note of appreciation. Expressing your appreciation will also increase your chances that they’d be willing to help you again, if need be.

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