By Paul Blazey @blazey85
You’re applying for your dream job to work in elite sport with the team you’ve supported from birth- who have just opened up the first sports medicine specialist full-time role at their organisation. Competition is bound to be fierce, but you’ve anticipated this moment and spent a great deal of time building your CV. You’re ready to take full advantage.
To distinguish yourself from the other applicants, you’ll need the support of key people in the field who are in your network (no, not your sports-obsessed tweeting friends, but those who have offered you professional guidance and are known in the field). So, how do you approach this mentor? And how can you get the best letter of support possible for this dream job?
We have a few tips for you:
1. Contact your mentor and ask for their support
Let’s say that you and your mentor have had a steady relationship with consistent contact over a reasonable length of time, and the interactions on both sides are positive and fruitful. We suggest you first reach out and request their support. A phone call may work- we’ll leave the medium up to you.
2. Draft a letter of support for your mentor
Once you have their provisional support (or anticipate receiving their support), you can follow up with a drafted letter, written by you. Now, this may appear weird and presumptive, but you’re not writing the final letter, you are ‘shaping the path’ for your mentor (1). Our reasoning: you can’t expect your mentor to know about everything you’ve been working on and how you’ve been applying your knowledge. By shaping the letter you’re able to bring to their attention how you are the most appropriate candidate for this job. Yes, depending on how well your mentor knows you, they may be able to add value to the list you’ve provided. Also, by producing a draft letter, you’ve taken initiative and given your mentor substrate for editing thereby facilitating your request.
You can make it clear to your mentor that using the drafted text is optional and that it can be disregarded. However, with this next tip, it’s unlikely that your mentor will want to start writing from scratch, but rather only want to add their voice and other golden touches…
3. Know what a winning recommendation letter does
For most, it’s no easy task to write a letter about themselves objectively. And before you step into the “me, me, me” mode, we suggest you get the job ad back up on your screen and prepare to dissect it. In the job ad, the potential employer should have laid out the criteria required for the position, and you’ll need to extract them. If the criteria are not clear, reach out to the contact person and find out what they are. Now, take each criterion out on its own and link it to at least two times in your career that prove your ability to achieve it. Use your CV as evidence for the things you want to highlight and use the letter to emphasise your skills as they relate to the job criteria.
Side note: If you’re lucky enough to have an informational interview with another person in the organisation, we suggest you do it- it’ll help you prepare you for the possible interview. You can be specific with your questions for the person and link them to the essential criteria for the role.
A winning letter of recommendation shows your employer you’ve got the experience and skills for the job and using the criteria they provided you can tick each skill off in their mind.
Why do we recommend a two-step process?
Using a one-step process (by supplying your CV in that first ask) can be woefully insufficient and prolong the time it takes for your mentor to get back to you.
Here’s the two-step process we recommend:
Step 1: Will you write a ref for me?
Step 2: Here are the criteria and here is my draft letter.
Which leads us to the final obvious point…
What if you need multiple letters? Won’t they all sound the same?
Potentially, but as part of your planning to meet each criterion required for the job, you can have your different mentors/ referees address different points depending on their speciality. For example, if the potential employer is looking for both clinical elements (is he/she a good doctor?) and research elements (can he/she practice using the ever-changing evidence?) then you can focus each letter accordingly with the referee that has seen you in action in the clinic or on the pitch/ has influenced you in the research realm, allowing your referee to speak to that element. Your content will change based on each of these letters, and your examples will too. Speaking of examples, make sure that they are concrete i.e, they stick (2).
These tips were passed on from the BJSM Editor-in-chief, Dr. Karim Khan. If you find these types of ‘career hack’ articles useful let us know by getting in touch on our social media channels (Twitter/Facebook/Instagram) or write us at email@example.com.
Paul Blazey (@blazey85) qualified as a Physiotherapist in 2008. Initially working in professional football and the National Health Service (UK). Paul successfully ran a private clinic primarily treating running and other sports injuries whilst gaining teaching and lecturing experience, before moving to Vancouver, Canada. He was a senior co-editor and co-author of Clinical Sports Medicine (5thEd. Vol.2). Paul now maintains a clinical caseload at Restore Physiotherapy Vancouver, is the lead editor of social media for the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) and works as a research manager for the University of British Columbia.
- Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2010) Switch. New York, US. Crown Publishing.
- Heath C. & Heath D. (2007) Made to Stick. New York, US. Crown Publishing.