References/Recommendations

It is very common and standard for employers, graduate schools, professional programs, etc. to ask for applicants to provide a list of references or letters of recommendation.

Reference Tips:

  • References should be professional and academic references (unless otherwise specified) – do not use parents or close personal friends.
  • Ask for permission before you use someone as a reference; send each reference a relevant job description and the resume that you used with the application.
  • Submit references to the employer or program only when asked or prompted to do so.
  • After you’ve interviewed, reach out to the reference to let them know if there was a particular project or quality you possess that you would like them to touch on.  This can be helpful if you’ve referenced a previous work position or project and if they can back up your quality of work by speaking to your performance.

Recommendation Letter Tips:

  • Give those providing the recommendation a program or position description.  This will help them to tailor the content to the specifics of what you are hoping to achieve.
  • Depending on the professional program or application platform, you may not be able to see the letter before it is submitted.  To diversify the letters content, request that each letter writer touch on different qualities that are important to the position or the program (Ex: one covering integrity, another covering leadership, etc.).
  • It can be a good idea to get a very tailored letter of recommendation and then a general one as well if the writer is willing to do so.  Having the general recommendation could come in hand in the future when you may have less contact with the writer, or perhaps if you are in a time crunch to submit a letter of recommendation.
  • Consider requesting that recommendations also be written on your LinkedIn profile.  These recommendations will remain on your LinkedIn Profile and can be proof of your professional value to all connections in the future.

FAQ’s:

Can multiple references come from just 1 work experience or the same employer?  –  Yes, this is acceptable as long as they are from a variety of people (no more than 1 work peer, 1 supervisor or director, etc.)

Should I use a professor as a reference?  –  This is certainly acceptable, as long as the professor has had enough experience working with you to speak to skills, experiences, and strengths that you would bring to the place of employment or program that you have applied for.  Professors are often references when students are applying to graduate or professional programs and/or if students have worked with that faculty member on research projects.

Do I need a reference from each previous employer or will it look back if i leave a reference off?  –  It is not necessary to provide a reference for every past employer, unless the application or employer is specifying it is needed.  If an employer is requiring a contact be provided as a reference from all previous employment and you’ve left a workplace on less than ideal terms, you may want to strategize how you will talk to the employer about this in the interview process so there are no surprises if they conduct a reference check with that employer.

Should I put my references on my resume?  –  No, references should go on a separate page.  It is a good idea to use the same header for the reference page as the header on your resume and cover letter.  See page 2 of our reference handout for an example.

How long should a letter of recommendation be?  –  Letters of recommendation is most commonly a page, but can be anywhere from 1-2 pages.  If you or the ones writing the letters are looking for further detail and suggestions, view this article for more information.

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