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What are References?

Most commonly, employers will ask for references when you apply for a job. References are persons who can talk about your knowledge and experience related to the job at hand. It's common to provide 3 references to an employer, including each person's name, title, relation to you (if not evident), address, email address and phone number. Unless otherwise specified by the employer, only supply professional references (persons who can address your work abilities) rather than personal references (persons who can address your character).

Less often, employers will ask for letters of reference, which are letters written on your behalf which you can submit to an employer. Letters of references are a common requirement for graduate school applications.

Who to Ask?

Three to four persons:

  • If you're a student or recent grad, a faculty or staff member who knows you well (you can ask two or three)
  • A former or current employer supervisor
  • A colleague / fellow worker

The person serving as a reference should satisfy the majority of these criteria:

  • Know you well enough to speak or write with authority
  • Know and be able to describe your work (i.e. academic, employment or volunteer)
  • Have a high opinion of you
  • Know what type of work or graduate studies you are pursuing
  • Know your educational and career goals
  • Be able to favorably compare you to your peers
  • Be articulate or able to write a good letter

How and When to Ask?

  • Ask references early (allow a minimum of three to four weeks before you need them)
  • Explain why you need the reference
  • Ask each person individually to be a reference and explain why you selected him/her
  • Ask reference if he/she knows you well enough and feels comfortable writing a positive recommendation for you or being contacted by potential employers.
  • Ask reference if the timing is okay (he/she may have been asked by several others and may not have time for all requests).

What to Provide?

For listed references:

  • Resume or vita
  • Information about the organization and job you are seeking

For letter writers:

  • Recommendation form provided by employer (if applicable)
  • Postage-paid addressed envelope (if letter will be mailed)
  • Resume or vita
  • Future goals
  • Upcoming research experiences, internships and other applicable experiences
  • Due date for the application (if applicable)

Important Details

For listed references:

  • Update your references by email about every job application for which you list them
  • Be sure to send each reference and thank you note and an update when you are offered a position.

For letter writers:

  • Contact your reference after about 2 weeks if you haven't received it.
  • Send each reference a thank you note immediately following the completion of the letter.
  • Be sure to update letter writers when you are admitted to graduate school or offered a position.


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Importance of Thanks

Over your career, dozens of persons will help you out in some way. Everyone relies on this help, but be sure to thank your helpers and return the favor or pay it forward.


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