Menu Login

Who do I ask to serve as a reference?

Student Career Placement Consultant

An important part of preparing for the job search is to create a list of references. You will not typically be asked to provide references when you apply for a job, but you will probably be asked for them if you are a finalist for the position. You need to have thought carefully about the people you can ask to serve as references and have your list prepared well before you actually need it. 

Ideally, your reference list will include at least one professor from your major and one employer/supervisor—either from a part-time or summer job or from an internship or cooperative education experience. Try to create a list of people who know you reasonably well, who can comment on your skills that are relevant to the workplace, and who will respond promptly to any requests from employers.

Contact the people you would like to have on your list and ask permission to include them. Provide them with a copy of your resume and tell them about the types of jobs you plan to apply for. Ask these references how they would like to be contacted (e.g., telephone, email) and get their contact information.

Create a list of four or five references. While most employers will ask for only two or three names, having more available to you will provide you with the resources to create the most appropriate reference list for each position.

Keep in mind that there is a big difference between asking someone to be a reference and asking them to write a letter of recommendation. If you ask someone to be a reference, you are asking them to respond to a telephone call or email message from a prospective employer. It’s likely that they will only be asked to answer some questions about your skills and abilities based on their experience with you. 

In contrast, asking someone to write a letter of recommendation, which is typical when you are applying to graduate school or applying for an academic job, is asking for much more. A letter of recommendation can take several hours to write, and the individual writing the letter has to feel much more secure in their knowledge of you. Only ask professors or employers who know you well to write letters of recommendation. When you ask, provide them with a copy of your resume as well as information about work you did with them—the course(s) you took with them or the position you held—and the relevant dates of that experience. 

If anyone declines your request to act as a reference or write a letter of recommendation, try not to take it personally. Such individuals may feel that they don’t know you well enough to provide you with sufficient support.

Share your thoughts!