References & Recommendations

Identifying References for Employment & Graduate School

Individuals have heard the term “reference” used in relation to employment and applications for admission to college, graduate or professional school. However many people do not clearly understand the role a reference plays as well as how to best select someone to serve as a reference.

A reference is an individual that is willing to speak on your behalf regarding qualifications for employment or admission to graduate and professional school. An individual is usually required to have a minimum of three references. However some organizations may request a larger number of references. An individual can ask any number of people to serve as a reference to be prepared. An individual may also be selective and use certain references for very specific opportunities. This allows for flexibility but requires that the job seeker or candidate for admission record which references have been used for each application.

A person serves as a reference and may be asked to write a letter of recommendation. References may also be asked to complete recommendation forms that might be provided by a graduate school or employer. You must always gain an individual’s permission to list them as a reference. It is best to ask the individual(s) to serve as a reference in person, by telephone or by email if distance is a factor. It is also important to ask if the individual can support your application for employment or to graduate and professional school. The idea is to have references that speak postitively about your qualifications and can realistically evaluate your ability to perform a job or succeed in academics.

The best individuals to ask to serve as references are individuals that have directly seen you in specific settings using the skills needed/desired. These individuals are normally current or former employers, teachers, faculty members, coaches or advisers. Typically a personal reference – an individual that has just known you for a long period of time (family member, friend of the family, or priest/minister/pastor/rabbi) – may not be the best choice. If you have questions about which individuals you should ask to serve as a reference, please do not hesitate to discuss the issue with a staff member in Career Services.

It is also recommended that you create a list of your references or a references sheet which can serve as an addendum to your resume or graduate school application. It can also be easily distributed during or after an interview. Click here to view a Reference page sample.