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If you’re looking for a job or internship, or are applying for further education, you will need to put together a portfolio of recommendation letters and have people at the ready to speak on your behalf. Checking your references is an important way potential employers or academic programs verify the skills and experience you present in your résumé and interview.
Here are tips for choosing and working with your references:
Whom to Ask
You’ll usually be asked for three references, but it’s a good idea to keep an updated list of five potential people, in case someone’s not available or is more or less appropriate for a certain application.
- Include references who you are certain will give you a positive endorsement, and include only people who have been your supervisors or instructors.
- In some situations a colleague may be appropriate, but never include friends or family, even if you worked together.
- Choose people with good knowledge of your qualifications and interests, who will speak positively and thoughtfully about your strengths and put your weaknesses in a constructive light.
Vicki B., a sophomore at The Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Texas, says, “The greater the responsibility or position of your reference, the more likely that he or she will be considered reliable.”
How to Ask
Greg Sutton, programming director at Apex Broadcasting in Destin, Florida, suggests personally speaking with potential references as opposed to contacting them via email.
If you already have an idea of where you’ll be applying, inform your references about the qualifications of the positions and whether or not you’ll need a written endorsement. If so, let them know a month or two ahead of when you plan to submit each application.
“Don’t be afraid to ask what they may say,” Sutton says. “Inform them of your most important attributes and remind them of some of your accomplishments before using them as a reference.”
Pointers on selecting references
- Spread your references across multiple positions and courses. This will help show consistently good performance in a variety of roles and situations.
- Elisa Jordan, a professor at The University of Phoenix, suggests that students develop genuine rapport with their professors and mentors, especially the ones that teach in their fields of study. “Professors are more likely to provide a good recommendation when the student is embedded in their memory,” she says.
- Leslie G., a recent graduate of Ashford University online, says, “Ask for a recommendation when you finish a course and have developed a relationship with [your instructor]. Later they may forget the details and quality of your work.”
Here are more tips:
- Keep in touch with professors even after you graduate, filling them in on your current employment and goals, and as you develop new skills.
Elisa Jordan, a professor at The University of Phoenix, says, “When a professor knows what you’re doing, he or she can recommend you for job opportunities and career advancements because [he or she is] familiar with you.”
- Notify your references each time you think they may receive an inquiry.
- Provide your references with information about the positions or schools for which you’ve applied. If one of your references has a personal contact, this can help you. If not, the details will still help him or her prepare for conversations.
- If you’ve written an essay as part of your application process, share it.
- Always thank your references. Claire H., a sophomore at Montgomery College in Maryland, suggests, “Thank them regardless of the outcome and tell them if you get the position.”
- Remain in contact with your references for as long as you plan to call on their help.
When you’re interviewing for positions, be proactive. Reach out to the people who’ve helped you along the way and who can reflect on your skills. Most will be honored to have been asked.
- Select at least five people to speak on your behalf.
- Use people who have been your supervisors or instructors. Never use family or friends as references.
- Keep in regular contact with your references and update them about your skills and interests.
- Share your résumé, other application materials, and descriptions of jobs or programs for which you’ve applied.
- Always thank your references, regardless of whether or not you get a particular position.
Get help or find out more
University of Delaware School of Public Policy & Administration, Graduate application references
American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Whys and What Fors of Employment References
Texas Women’s University, Professional References