Letters of Recommendation

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Checking references is usually the final step prior to being hired (or accepted into a graduate school program). It's important to be selective on who you use as a reference and who you'll ask for a letter of recommendation. You will want to include people who view you favorably and who have positive things to say about you. If in doubt, ask your reference if they feel that they know you well enough to provide a good reference.

Types of References

Basically, there are two types of references; professional and personal. Professional references can address your skills, knowledge, and work ethic while personal references can better discuss your personal traits. Employers and graduate school programs will usually let you know the number of references they want and may specify the type of reference they are seeking as well.

A good reference will provide knowledge of your character, integrity, specialized skills, and work habits. Hopefully, your references are from people who are excited about your career plans and can provide an employer or grad program with important details that create a favorable impression about you. 

Steps for Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

  1. Determine the purpose of the letter of recommendation and then identify the appropriate person(s) who can best supply that reference.
  2. It’s better to ask your reference if they feel they know you well enough to provide a good reference than getting a reference that does not boast of your accomplishments and personal work ethic.
  3. Provide the reference with supporting documents such as resume, classes taken (and grades received), as well as any internships, volunteer work, or jobs that you have completed. Make sure your reference knows the purpose of the recommendation so they can address the skills and accomplishments based on the type of position or graduate school program to which you are applying. Apprise references of your goals and update them on your background and the type of job/program you are seeking. Keep them abreast of what you are applying for and let them know once you have accepted a position.
  4. Be sure to get permission prior to using someone as a reference. Advise your references of any deadlines and provide as much time as possible for references to write a recommendation. A hurried reference letter will not have the same impact as a well-planned letter boasting of your strengths and accomplishments. Follow up and check with your references to see if they need any additional information. You can gently remind them of the deadline if the date is approaching soon.

As a courtesy, you can also supply your reference with a stamped envelope to send the letter directly to the employer. Employers usually prefer confidential references where the reference is able to supply valuable information without worrying about the applicant’s response to the reference.

Who to Ask for a Reference

  • Professors
  • Previous Supervisors at jobs or internships
  • Academic Advisors
  • Coaches
  • Special Contacts (music teachers, sports contacts, volunteer/job/internship associates)

These individuals can all be used as character references as well as attest to your work ethic and desire to achieve. A list of references is usually supplied upon request by an employer or graduate school program. The list should be developed on a separate sheet of paper and provided when asked.

You may ask your reference for a copy of the letter that you can use in future applications. Be sure to send a thank you note to your reference thanking him/her for their time.