getting a job: references and letters of recommendation

Posted : April 3, 2005
Last Updated : January 28, 2016

getting a job: references and letters of recommendation

When interviewing candidates for employment, employers often request references and letters of recommendation. Having good references can elevate a potential candidate to a top choice candidate. Keep the following in mind when compiling a list of references and letters of recommendation.

Who should you ask?
When choosing people to be references and write letters of recommendation, it is essential to select people who are able to make a reliable evaluation of your character and your working ability and who are pleased to help you. Good references are people who are professional and in positions of responsibility. Consider asking professors, academic advisors, employers, business acquaintances, coaches, or community leaders. Unless you have worked with them in a professional setting, don't use family members as references; a recruiter or interviewer may not see them as credible sources. Friends can be used as personal references.

How should you ask?
You have two options when asking people to be your references or write letters of recommendation for you: the direct approach or the indirect approach. You should choose the approach with which you are most comfortable. With the direct approach, you would ask them in person or call them. With the indirect approach, you would email or write them. If you go with the direct approach, you should get an immediate response. The indirect approach allows people to easily say no if they feel they don’t know you well enough or just would not have time to be a reference or write a letter. Keep in mind that you want a good reference so if someone says no, it's probably a good thing.

How should you prepare your references?
After you have two or three people who have agreed to be your references, it is important to speak with them about the image you would like to have portrayed to potential employers. Try to divide responsibilities among your references. One reference can talk about how attentive you are to details. Another reference can describe your great personality and leadership skills. Be sure to share copies of your resume and copies of the position description with all of your references. Make sure they know what your career goal is and why you will succeed in that career. Discuss your strengths, weaknesses, leadership skills, and communication abilities with all references. Make sure you like what they have to say about you; otherwise, you may have to find new references.

Regardless of whether or not you get the position you want, you should thank your references for taking time to help you. Send them a thank-you card a couple of days after you have asked them to be a reference or write a letter. If you end up getting the position, send another thank-you note letting them know that you got the job.

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