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In Joseph O’Neill's “The Referees,” a short story in this week’s New Yorker, the protagonist, Rob, is struggling to gather credible character references in support of an application to rent a co-op in Prospect Heights. In a passage that sounds more documentary than fiction, the co-op board has requested “meaningful letters of reference that specifically address the high standards of integrity and deportment expected of a co-operative resident.” As Rob's returned to the city after a long absence out of state, two weeks into a new job and just divorced, this is proving a monumental task. But it needn’t be.
Here, a quick roundup of what “Rob” does wrong, and what you can do right:
· DON'T limit yourself to local acquaintances. Most co-op boards understand recent transplants to NYC may be short on local references. Instead, opt for references from people who know you well (and can speak well of you).
· DON'T attempt to dig up best buds from your past. The cause of your now distant relationship may be due to a long forgotten incompatibility that doesn’t lend itself well to character referencing.
· DON'T ask a new supervisor. He or she simply doesn’t have enough of a history with you to evaluate your character.
· DO select references who know you currently, well and for a significant period of time. Close friends and business colleagues who can attest to your personal character and financial responsibility make the best picks.
· DO make sure your references note the length of time the person has known you, how they met you and what their experience of you is. Anecdotes can help back up statements and add personality.
· DO make sure your letters are no longer than 1 to 1.5 pages, are typed up neatly and have been checked for spelling and grammar. Sloppiness makes a poor impression.
(Thanks to Curbed NY for alerting us to the story.)