Please note the following information is focused on references for jobs and internships. For information on letters of recommendation for graduate or professional schools, please visit our graduate school page.
Who can be a reference?
- Previous and Current Employers
- Volunteer Coordinators
- Club Advisors
- Academic Advisors
Unless explicitly stated on the application instructions, you should not use personal connections (friends and family) as references. Faculty can be used as a reference for employment, but note that if the application instructions ask for “professional references” you should not ask references that are strictly academic. Even if it is fine to include faculty as references, note that they should be able to speak to your skill set in terms of your ability to do the job to which you are applying. For example, employers will want to know how you work with others, learn new skills, etc., and they will not need in-depth information about your academic performance.
How to ask a potential reference
- Ask: Whether asking in person, over the phone, or by email, always give the person you are asking time to reflect on your request.
- Give: Provide the person with sufficient background information (ex. Cover letter, resume, job description) to be able to respond to a call or write a letter.
- Wait: Keep in touch with your reference on your progress with an application. Always give them a heads up if you anticipate the employer is contacting them soon.
- Thank: Respect your reference’s time commitment by writing a thank-you note, verbally expressing your gratitude, and keeping them up to date on your accomplishments.
- Maintain contact with potential references and don’t wait until a year or two passes to ask them if they’d be willing to serve as a reference. Some ideas for maintaining contact even if you are no longer interacting regularly would be to congratulate them on achievements (ex. New job, promotion), update them on your own achievements, send them articles of interest, or send them a greeting during the holidays.
- Do not list references that you have not asked ahead of time or anybody that has not agreed to serve as a reference for you.
- Do not include references on your resume. Provide them on a separate document only when requested by a potential employer up front. It is more common for employers to only request references if you are a finalist for a position.
- If not specified, assume that providing a list of references means 3-5 references.
- When listing your references, include each individual’s name, phone number, email address, and current title and organization. You can also include the nature of your relationship (ex. Former supervisor at Reed College).
- Double check your references’ contact information before submitting it as part of an application, in case there have been any changes.
- Mentioning a reference’s name in your cover letter may carry weight if that person is known by or connected to the organization to which you are applying. As mentioned above, make sure you have permission from your reference.
- If you anticipate you will be applying for several jobs, you can discuss with your reference at the beginning of your search how they would like to handle it. For instance, they may not need you to ask them for permission to be a reference for each individual application and may instead grant their permission to be listed for all your job applications and request that you send them updates for each position in which you advance in the hiring process. Having this discussion early on saves unnecessary communication later on and shows your respect for their time and process.
Difference between reference and letter of recommendation
References are a list of individuals who can be contacted by phone or email to answer questions from the hiring manager at an organization to which you have applied regarding your work. This usually happens in the final stages of a hiring process. A letter of recommendation is an actual letter that is written by an individual who describe your skill set in relation to future opportunities and is normally provided at the beginning of an application process along with your other materials. It is rare for this to happen in employment searches and is more common for fellowships and graduate school. If an application simply asks for references, note that you only need to provide the list and not actual letters.