Recommendations and References

Why do I need references?

  • References are an important part of the application process. References are past individuals who will vouch for your performance and aptitude as an employee. Before you apply for jobs, it is important to have individuals whom you have already asked that you can use as references in the instance that an employer would request a reference.

Who should I ask for a reference?

  • Depending on the application, you may have to provide between 2-5 references. You will want to think strategically about who to ask to provide a reference for you. First, think about the job—what are the job responsibilities and who could vouch that you can perform those responsibilities?
  • While it is best to try to provide recent references, if you have a reference from your past that could speak to the responsibilities of the job you may want to consider asking this reference. Of course, you’ll want to ask individuals that will speak well and articulately about your skills, accomplishments, and character.

How should I ask for a reference?

  • There are a few key points of protocol when asking for a reference. The employment process can often unfold very quickly so be sure to ask your potential references when you turn your application in. If you don’t ask and simply provide a reference’s contact information without their consent, if and when a potential employer contacts this person they may be blindsided and, inadvertently, give you a less than stellar reference. It also isn’t polite or respectful to give away someone’s contact information without their permission.
  • When asking for a reference, remember to ask politely and in a way that allows someone to decline gracefully such as “Would you be comfortable serving as a reference in my upcoming job hunt?” or “Would you have the time within the next few weeks to serve as a reference for me?” Try not to pressure them—remember that you’ll want someone who will have the time and energy to enthusiastically recommend you. If someone declines, don’t worry. Simply move on to your next option.
  • If they agree, you’ll want to share with them the jobs you’re applying for and what they could best do to help you. Are there any specific skills you’d like them to highlight? Why are you interested in this job? It might also be helpful to share a copy of your resume with them. In addition to this, you’ll also want to let them know how the employer will contact them. Can they expect a call? Will they be sent an e-mail with a form to fill out? Remember that they are doing you a favor so try to give them as much information and heads-up as possible to make their job as easy as possible. You will also want to verify their contact information and title.
  • Each time you submit someone as a reference you’ll want to let them know (via e-mail is fine) so they’re not blindsided by having to provide a reference.
  • Of course, be sure to thank whoever has recommended you preferably with a handwritten note. They are taking time away from their personal lives and job to support you. When you find out the results of the job application, hired or not, you’ll want to let whomever recommended you know the results. Following-up and thanking the individual is a great way to continue to build a long-term relationship.

How do I provide the list of my references to my employer?

  • You may be asked to provide a list or you may have to input this information into an online system. If you have to provide a list, be sure to list the references name, title, organization, division or department (if applicable), telephone number, e-mail address, and how you know this person (“Dr. Augusta was my lab supervisor for three years”). Try to mirror the same formatting and style of your resume when putting together your reference list. This is one item you may want to bring with you if you have an interview; you may then provide this list to employers.

What is a dossier service?

  • If you are going into an industry where you need to have a lot of references on hand to send to a potential employer (such as academia), you may consider using a dossier service that stores your recommendations online and allows you to send them to employers for a fee. Check out a few job applications first—you may not need a dossier service for your particular field.

What are some trustworthy dossier services?

  • Check with your department—they may provide a dossier service for you or your colleagues or advisors may have suggestions about how certain fields handle dossier services and letters of reference. Interfolio is a dossier service that is tailored toward academics (though you could use it for other fields as well).


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