Career & Internship Services

Career Handbook

References: The Importance Of

Whether you are job hunting or applying to graduate or professional school, gathering references is a very important part of the process. Deciding whom to ask and then asking them can be difficult. To make it easier, plan ahead. Develop and cultivate positive relationships with those who may later serve as references for you.

General Tips:

  • Choose your reference writers carefully. References should come from people who know you well from an academic, volunteer or work setting, think highly of you and can provide specific comments rather than vague generalizations. Identify people you know such as professors, employers, supervisors, advisors, customers, or business associates. Letters of recommendation are best if written by people who have excellent written communication skills. The positions or notoriety of people are less important than what they have to say about you and how well they say it.
  • To decide who to ask to be your references, think of your audience. If you are applying for employment, generally work references are best. If you are applying to graduate school, faculty references are usually required.
  • Ask in advance and ask for permission to use people as references. Ask people if they are willing to serve as strong, positive references for you. Give them 2-4 weeks to write letters; do not ask at the last minute. Provide them with information regarding the type of position or graduate program and application process and ask if they can meet the deadlines. Follow up with them as the deadline nears to determine if they have completed the recommendation.
  • Ask your reference writers what information they need from you. Supply them with a copy of your resume and/or personal statement, a copy of your transcript, a list of courses you have taken from them, copies of research papers you have written and/or a list of your skills you would like them to highlight. Information about the programs or employers to which you are applying, including the job description or posting, may help them provide more effective recommendations. The more information you give them, the more detailed and thorough they can be.
  • Finally, write each of your references to thank them for their time and let them know you appreciate their efforts. Keep them informed of your activities.

Employment References:

  • When applying for employment, you will usually be asked to supply a list of references. The list includes names, titles, business and email addresses and telephone numbers of people who have agreed to serve as your references. If you are asked to submit written letters of recommendation, you may either provide copies of general letters of recommendation, which you already have, or request that each of your references write a letter directed specifically to the employer. Three references is usually the standard request, but you may supply up to five.
  • If you are not specifically asked to submit written letters of recommendation, you may still want to include copies of ones you already have, particularly if they are especially positive and strong.

Graduate or Professional School References:

  • Graduate and Professional programs will usually provide a link to an online recommendation form emailed directly to your reference writer. They will also include specific instructions about the type of people from whom they want recommendations and about what they want them to write. The number and type of recommendations depends on the individual school or program, so be sure you clearly understand the requirements. Some programs may ask you to indicate whether you wish to waive the right to see the recommendation. Waiving the right to see a letter may increase its validity.
  • If you do not plan to apply for further education at this time, you may want to collect letters of recommendation and keep them for use later. Contact your faculty or research supervisors before graduation and have a conversation with them regarding your future ‚Ćplans for graduate or professional school. Then, when you need the references, you can supply them with a current copy of your resume, personal statement, and what they had written earlier to help them remember you and remind them of specific details.