- Grad Students/Postdocs
Asking for a Reference or a Letter of Recommendation
• Letters of recommendation (also known as references) should come from people that know you in a professional or training capacity.
• Choose people who have been acquainted with you for a minimum of six months and that are familiar with your character, skills and work ethic. Examples include current or former supervisors, faculty, advisors, coaches, or mentors. References should NOT be family members or peers.
• If you must choose between several people that know you well, select the ones that hold a higher rank in their profession or that have a strong reputation in your career field.
• Consider the purpose of the letter and select the references that are most appropriate. A letter related to employment will emphasize skills and experience while a letter related to graduate school or a scholarship will emphasize potential.
• Always ask permission from your references before you use their names.
Try to Meet References Face to Face
• See how interested an individual is in serving as a reference for you. A personal meeting with the potential writer is always best. Discuss your career goals and what you want the letter to reflect.
• It is important to know that you will get a strong letter. Trust your instincts—if you sense that the reference is not enthusiastic about writing the letter, thank the person for meeting with you and find another person.
Help Your References Write Strong Letters
• Provide your references a copy of your resume and the job description. For graduate or professional school applications also include a one-page summary of achievements or skills and a statement of your future goals.
• Encourage your references to use strong, descriptive words that provide evidence of your interpersonal, leadership, oral and written communication, conflict resolution, and decision-making skills. Also ask them to highlight your initiative and your grasp of the subject area.
• For letters of recommendation, give your references ample time to complete their letters and provide them with pre-addressed stamped envelopes.
How Many References?
• Typically, you should provide three to five references. See the sample for a standard format.
• Remember—a reference should attest to your skill and ability level. Any inconsistencies between what you say in an interview and a reference’s response could eliminate you from consideration for the position.
• Follow up with your references and let them know the status of your search.
• Continue to nurture valuable relationships with people who could serve as a reference for you in the future!
reviewed: 2009/07/06 by kn