Recommendations and references have a similar role in a selective process. Typically, recommendations are formal, confidential letters provided to a graduate school or other academic-based program while references are used by employers to confirm qualifications before making an offer.

What Is a Reference

References are individuals who can speak about your work to a prospective employer.

Generally, you will be asked for 3–5 references by human resources or the hiring manager after you have gone through the interview process. These individuals will be contacted to share feedback about working with you, either with a short survey or in a phone conversation.

The questions typically focus on employment facts (job title, job duties, punctuality, length of employment) and workplace performance (reliability, integrity, professionalism, productivity).

Who to Ask

Ask those who can speak highly of you and your qualifications, such as reliability, initiative, work habits, knowledge, experience in the field, and other relevant qualifications. This might include former or current supervisors, professors, and coaches. You may want different references for different types of jobs.

Consider supervisors from internships, summer or part-time jobs, volunteer work, and campus jobs. You can also include others at an organization, such as the lead for a project you contributed to.

Sometimes employers specifically ask about speaking with a current supervisor. You might not want to share their contact information, either because your current supervisor does not know you are applying elsewhere or because you do not have a good relationship with them and you feel they might give you a bad reference.

In either case, make sure your reference list includes at least one supervisor, ideally the next most recent, and someone else from the current organization.

When to Ask

Ask when you begin applying to positions, with additional check-in emails as employers request your references.

How to Ask

Requesting a Reference

Dear _____________,

I hope you are doing well. I wanted to let you know that since we last spoke, I am currently job searching. I am in the process of applying to ________. I have been asked to provide references as part of the hiring process. I was wondering if you would be willing to serve as a strong reference for me.

If yes, please share your preferred email address and phone number. It seems like they will be conducting reference checks within the next ______ weeks. I have attached my updated resume, my cover letter, and the job description for this role. Thank you in advance for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing back regarding your decision.

Your Name

After Asking

Follow up with each of your references when you hear from the employer asking for their information.

Let them know that they will soon be contacted and by whom (if you know) and send a copy of your resume and cover letter. Also include information about the employer and the position, such as the responsibilities, key qualifications, and a brief description of how your experience is a good fit.

Follow up after you have accepted a position with an update and a thank-you.

Reference List

Occasionally, organizations request a list of references as part of your application or early in the process. Although rare, it does happen. We do not recommend including references on your resume. You only want to supply references when asked or instructed to do so.

Create the list as a formal application document, following the format and style you used with your resume and cover letter. Use the same header with your name and contact information.

For the list itself, include the following for each reference:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Organization name
  • Phone number, including any extension
  • Email address

If the person has since left the organization or the role, include a note about what role they were in when you worked together.

Reference List Example