References and Letters of Recommendation
References or letters of recommendation can be a popular employment or graduate school selection instrument. Many graduate schools and some position announcements require applicants to supply letters of recommendation or a list of 3-5 individuals serving as references. Over 90% of organizations use some means (usually a request for a recommendation letter or a phone call) for checking references. Most employers will expect you to have some kind of recommendation from a previous employer, associate, or instructor.
All applicants should have at least three references or recommendations available. For students graduating from college, the opinions or recommendations of your faculty and college administrators will probably be the most important. For those who have actual work experience, references will be sought from your job supervisors.
Be very selective when choosing references.
If you have three good references and two are better than the third, drop the third one. Do not list anyone who might say, "He's good at..., but ...." All that is needed to eliminate you is one bad reference. A good reference/"recommender" is someone who has firsthand knowledge of your performance in the classroom or on the job. Resume readers prefer work references to character references. The best reference is the one who will say, "He worked for me and I wish I could hire him back."
Three references are plenty.
Most employers will go to the trouble of phoning your references only after having made a decision to consider you seriously for a position, and will probably do so in an effort to reinforce their positive impressions. Do not rely on people whose opinion of you is less than clear, even if they carry considerable weight within the industry you are trying to enter. Using an industry "bigwig" as a reference will only help you if you know the person in question fairly well. Try to elicit recommendations from people who can honestly speak highly of your back-ground, skills, accomplishments, and potential.
The process begins when you approach an individual who knows you well, and ask them if they would be willing to serve as your reference as you go about your application process. After this beginning, you will want to set up an appointment with your reference to acquaint them with your aspirations and help them develop a good sense of how they can help you if they are called upon by your future employers. This meeting is important because it gives your reference a feeling of confidence that they will be able to help you, and it lets you get a feel for how they will respond to potential calls.
Recommendation Action Plan
The following are suggestions to aid you in requesting letters of recommendation or selecting individuals who you will list on a reference page.
- Start Early: Look for people who view you favorably and ask them for recommendations before they go on sabbatical, forget you, or even change their minds about you.
- Select Someone Who Knows You Well: Identify individuals such as professors, past employers, supervisors of internships, supervisors of summer jobs, supervisors of extracurricular activities, etc.
- Choose Writers Carefully When You Need Actual Recommendation Letters: Assess the ability of your letter writers.
- An Ideal Recommendation Writer Will Meet Several of the Following Criteria:
- Has a high opinion of you
- Knows you well in more than one area of your life
- Has taught or worked with a large number of students and can make favorable comparisons between you and your peers
- Has good communication skills
- Is familiar with the organization(s) to which you are applying
- Is familiar with the types of responsibilities involved in the position(s) for which you are applying
- Who will read the letter
- The date the letter is needed
- How to contact you
- Whether the letter will be confidential or not
- If you want a copy of it