Deep breaths…DEEP. BREATHES. I just felt like you needed to hear that….
I want to tell you how to give your Reference HELP!
This might be my most aggressive DI application advice ever. I’ve seen too many well-qualified applicants not put enough effort into their references. Then they get below average references and it hurts their chances in a big way. Think about it. References are the one component that isn’t coming from you. It is like the YELP review of DICAS. Sure you might be able to say nice things about yourself, but what are you REALLY like?! That’s what the reference does. And directors seriously consider the quality of your references for this reason.
So my strategy is try to help your references help you. Here’s a list of things you can do to make that happen:
MEETING OR CALL
Set up an in-person meeting or call to discuss all the details of being a reference, such as deadline, how important it is, etc. I think it is especially important to tell them how competitive the process is and how important it is to get high ratings of 5 and have specific examples in the question portion. Of course if you are working with someone that has done references for DIs before, you can skip the competitive part, but I’ve seen people use supervisors that never did a DI reference and did not put in nearly enough effort (I’m talking like 2 or 3 sentences for each text box and a mix of 3, 4, and 5 scores for the ratings. NOT GOOD!) The more you put into the relationship with your reference, the better it will be.
RESUME AND PERSONAL STATEMENT
Give them your resume and personal statement drafts (even if they aren’t final…just tell them they aren’t final).
Give them examples of your strengths and things you are working to improve. The reference may decide to use this material to make your reference stronger and not so cookie-cutter. Make this different for each reference so that they don’t write the same things 😉 Also give STAR stories of the accomplishments you had when you were with them.
Give them sample references so they are inspired! You don’t have any sample references??! OH DON’T EVEN WORRY BECAUSE I HAVE SOME FOR YOU! YAYAYAYAYA!!!
SEE MY SAMPLE REFERENCES
IMPORTANT: Even though these samples look like “letters” this is the content that would go in the first text box of the reference form, which asks the reference to write about the applicant’s strengths.
A Final Note…
When you are thinking about “selling yourself” you may wonder HOW? Well you really have to think of what the skills are that you need to prove you have. Since I have been a reference, I see all the skills they ask references to rate applicants on. I can’t help but think that the team that put together this list of skills got input from dietetic internship directors. So here are the skills that I think you need to show you have….
Application of Knowledge
-Medical Nutrition Therapy
-Food Service Management
Analytical Skills/ Problem Solving
Reaction to Stress
Overall Potential as a Dietitian
If you need help choosing references, you can get a Coaching Call with a coach to brainstorm your best strategies.
I was asked a great question this week about helping your reference answer the question about weaknesses or areas of improvement. My advice is below, but in general you want to take the same approach as in your personal statement, which is to focus on how you are CURRENTLY improving something and have a positive spin on it. More on that in a minute….
Note that in the SAMPLE REFERENCES resource on the DOWNLOADS page, I have answers for what your references would put in the first text box when they answer “what are the strengths and weaknesses of the applicant?”
The second question is to comment on the areas that the applicant can improve on. This is definitely trickier to address, so I will do so now!
First, think of something you improved throughout your time as a student or with them at an organization (depending on if this is a professor or supervisor) and are continuing to work on. It is a similar approach to the personal statement. You will want these to be different from what you used in your own personal statement and also be different for each reference you send this information to. If you and all 3 of your references said you had the same weakness, I’d probably think it was a big issue!
Second, you want to avoid actual skills that directors are looking for. Don’t say you are working on leadership, team work, communication, etc. Rather, think more in terms of professional development like public speaking, learning a language, confidence (we can ALWAYS be more confident), gaining more experience in your area of interest, seeking out mentorship, getting even more involved in dietetics groups. It is focused more on your GROWTH than on your SHORTCOMINGS if that makes sense 🙂
Third, keep it short and positive. Reread it and ask yourself if there is anything that makes it sound more negative than it needs to be? Can you delete any random detail? Are you SHOWING how you are improving with an example or evidence?
For your professors, usually the weaknesses I suggest have nothing to do with the class, but more on a professional growth level based on conversations they have had with you outside classes.
Example – Jenny is currently working on getting more involved in professional dietetics groups related to her area of interest. While she has attended some local meetings as a member, she is planning to find a student leadership role in Oncology Nutrition dietetic practice group to prepare for her career as an oncology dietitian.
For your supervisor, this can be more work related so something that you have already improved on (like your confidence in applying the knowledge you learned) and then say how you are going to continue to gain more confidence.
Example – Compared to when Jenny started as a volunteer, her confidence in her decisions has improved tremendously. That said, I see her continuing to trust in herself and the application of her knowledge in the dietetic internship.
Final note…the “area of improvement” answer can be super short. There isn’t a minimum number of words needed. Also for the “what are strengths and weaknesses” It is super silly that they even word it like this (sorry DICAS, I still love ya!) I always tell references just to focus on strengths for the first and then a real quick “area to improve” for the second question 🙂 My guess (I truly don’t know) is that DICAS keeps the first question open-ended to welcome anything negative the reference wants to share, but really your hope is that the reference should be overwhelmingly positive.
Hope that helps!