How to Request a Reference Letter

  • Ask for a reference letter from people who know you and your capabilities, such as professors, community college instructors, advisors or counselors, job/internship/volunteer work supervisors, or influential friends who have known you for a long time. Relatives are not a good choice.
  • Give your letter writer a copy of your resume so they know what you have done 

  • Be sure to give the people you ask enough time to write the reference letter; a minimum of at least one month would be appreciated.

  • Tell the people who agree to write letters for you about what type of internship(s) or job(s) you are interested in so they understand what they could write that would help you to achieve those goals. 

  • Once you receive your reference letters, send the writers thank you notes. You should also let writers know about your subsequent success and how much their letters helped you to attain your goal

Using a Reference Letter Service

UC Santa Cruz Career Center has partnered with Interfolio, Inc. to provide state of the art online credential file management services.  This service is now available to UC Santa Cruz students and alumni to send application materials to graduate and professional schools, or as a PhD to send academic credentials to a search committee. Other services for Law and Medical school applications are also listed at the bottom of this page.

Suggestions for Reference Letter Writers:

  • Explain how you know the applicant and how long you have known him/her.

  • List the applicant's exceptional qualities and skills, especially those that are related to the applicant's field of interest or job search. Give specific examples to back up what you have written.

  • Concentrate on several different aspects of the person. Be specific when you refer to his/her skills, attitude, personal attributes, contributions, performance, growth, etc. during the time period you have known the candidate.

  • Refer to the requester's competency in a specific area such as, organizational and communication skills, academic or other achievements, interaction with others, sound judgment, reliability, analytical ability, etc.

  • Omit weaknesses. If you can't write a positive letter of reference, you should diplomatically decline when you are first approached.

  • State your own qualifications. 

  • Emphasize key points that you want the reader to take note of on the resume or application. Be sure to elaborate meaningfully; don't simply restate what he/she has already written.

  • Unless it is absolutely relevant, do not refer (either in a direct or implied reference) to the applicant's race, religion, national origin, age, disability, gender, or marital status.

  • Don't be too brief, but be succinct and make every word count. Generally speaking, a letter of reference for employment should be one page; a letter of reference for school admission should be one to two pages.

  • List your own contact information if you are willing to receive follow-up correspondence or answer questions.

  • Make the ending strong without overdoing it. Undue praise can be viewed as biased or insincere.

  • Proofread! The letter of reference represents both you and the applicant.
Example of attributes you can discuss related to the candidate:
  • ability to communicate
  • intelligence
  • self-confidence
  • willingness to accept responsibility
  • initiative
  • leadership
  • energy level
  • imagination
  • flexibility
  • interpersonal skills
  • self-knowledge
  • ability to handle conflict
  • goal achievement
  • competitiveness
  • appropriate vocational skills
  • direction
Examples of personal qualities you can discuss:
  • empathy
  • abstract thinking ability
  • a high level of commitment
  • the ability to be “self-directed”
  • a high energy level
  • sense of humor
  • ability to complete projects
  • the potential ability to lead

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