By Tiffany Franklin, M.S. Ed.
When it comes to the job search, references are an often overlooked or last minute aspect, although they play a key role in the background check employers conduct. You’ll notice that applications ask you to list references when you first apply and then as you move through interview rounds, your prospective employer will ask for them prior to extending an offer.
They ask for these to verify that what you say is accurate in your application materials and during your interviews. If employers are choosing between top candidates, the strength of a reference can make all the difference.
So, how do you select the people to ask and what are the etiquette rules around asking for references?
- Make a list of supervisors you’ve had in your past internships, professional jobs, research positions, summer jobs, volunteer work, and your professors/academic advisors. Select the ones that can speak to your work ethic, problem solving, communication skills, leadership ability, specific technical skills, and/or teamwork.
- Contact your references, let them know about your job search, and ask if they would be available as a reference and if they could give you a good recommendation.
- Compile contact information for these confirmed references including current job title, company name, address, email, and phone number. Add a line about the context in which they supervised you or if you took their class and the dates. Have a sheet of references that accompanies your resume, but is a separate document. There is no need to write “References available upon request” on your resume since it’s a given.
- Provide your references updates about your search, including info about the kinds of organizations you are targeting, when they might be hearing from the employer and/or when the written letters of reference are due for your application. Respect their time and be sure to give plenty of notice for written letters.
- Keep your references posted regarding your progress in your job search. Be sure to thank them for their help with a formal written thank you note or card.
Keep in mind that it’s much easier to ask for references when you take the time to keep in touch with former supervisors and colleagues every few months. Demonstrate genuine interest in maintaining contact with them and not just when you need something. Get to know you professors by attending office hours and contributing in class. This will help your reference learn more about you and have more insights to provide your prospective employer.
Download this Essential Guide to references PDF with examples of outreach emails to ask for references.
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