Soliciting Effective References

Employers and Graduate Schools considering your candidacy often require you to provide a list of references and/or reference letters. Employers may request a reference list at your initial application, before you interview, or after your interview. Normally references will not be contacted until you are a “finalist” for a position. Graduate Schools will often request reference letters as part of the application process.

References verify your experience, confirm your competence, build credibility and increase the employer’s confidence that your skills, abilities, past job/school performance and accomplishments make you a good fit for the position. Therefore, it is important to give careful consideration of who you ask to serve as your reference.

Identifying Your References

  • References may include, but are not limited to, the following people: faculty and academic advisors, professors, bosses, supervisors, and co-workers.
  • Create a list of 6-10 possible references who know you as a professional. As a college student or recent alumnus, at least one reference should be a professor or faculty member.
  • Chose wisely. If an individual has minimal knowledge of your professional capabilities, do not add them to your list.
  • If they seem hesitant to serve as your reference, ask someone else. Do not settle.

Requesting a Reference

  • Select 3-4 professional references for each position/graduate school application. Having a list of potential references will allow you to pick and choose from the list.
  • Personally contact each person and ask if they will serve as your reference. Do not send an email or leave a voicemail message.
  • Schedule an appointment with each individual to discuss the types of positions in which you are interested in applying and how you see your skills, experiences, abilities and qualifications fitting in with those positions.
  • Ask early. Don’t wait until the last minute and/or your last year of college. Build your recommendation portfolio by asking your employer or supervisor to write you a letter whenever you leave or complete your job if you left on good terms. If you did really well in a class you took during your sophomore year, do not be afraid to ask your professor to write you a reference letter at the end of the semester.

Providing Your References with Information

  • Provide your references with your current resume, a summary of goals and plans and any other document (ie: transcript) you feel is necessary for them to provide an employer with thorough and positive information.
  • Notify your reference when you have included them on a job application.
  • If the reference is writing you a letter of recommendation, you should provide him or her with stamped envelopes. Include a cover sheet with a list of the graduate schools and/or employers for which you are requesting letters.

How to Cite a Reference

April Johnson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History
University of Evansville
12 Ace Purple Way
Evansville, IN 47722
(812) 555-5678

  • Use the same header, font and font size used on your resume for the reference page.

Thanking Your References

  • Send a thank you card to your reference after you know the letter has been sent out and/or they have spoken with the organization.
  • You may also consider re-contacting your references to apprise them of your situation and/or your new position/graduate school admission. Continue to cultivate relationships with your network even after you have secured employment or graduate school admission.

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