Request References & Recommendations

References vs. Letters of Recommendation

A reference is a person who will give a strong positive statement about you and your work-related qualities and experience.  This statement is usually shared via email or phone.  Occasionally, a reference may be written in letter format.  (Written references are most often used in the field of education.)  The most common way in which references are shared with others is via a reference list, which generally includes 3-5 references. 

A letter of recommendation is a written statement supporting your application for a specific internship program, fellowship, or graduate school.  It differs from a reference in that it is always written and is addressed to a specific program.  Many organizations that require a letter of recommendation will provide you a form that will include a confidentiality waiver.

You may store references and letters of recommendation online through Interfolio.

Occasions Requiring References and Letters of Recommendation

You will most likely be asked for a list of references when you are being considered for a job, internship, or volunteer position. Your references will attest to your skills, strengths, work ethic, classroom performance, team work, leadership skills, etc.  Each reference listing should contain:

  • Name, job title, and organization
  • Street address or (more commonly) email address
  • Work phone
  • A brief statement explaining your relationship, for example:
    • Supervisor, Fidelity Internship
    • Professor, American Healthcare course
Your reference list should be proofread and error-free, including proper spelling of names, appropriate titles and correct contact information, and on quality paper that matches your resume and cover letter.

Letters of recommendation are often required when you apply to graduate school, funding programs such as Hiatt’s World of Work, and other fellowships such as the Davis or Fulbright. These programs want to learn from people who know you well and can judge how you may perform within the context of the particular program for which you are applying.

Choosing an Advocate

When deciding whom to ask for a reference or recommendation, consider the following:

  • Is the individual willing to provide strong, favorable information about you?
  • Is the individual’s academic or professional area relevant to your work or area of study?
  • Does the individual know you well enough to say substantive things about you?
  • Does the individual have the time to serve as a reference or write a letter?  Do not simply drop off a reference form in a professor’s box or send her or him a casual email. If special circumstances mean that you are forced to ask for a reference or recommendation on short notice, be sure to ascertain that the individual is willing and able to meet your tight deadline.

Good reference and recommendation sources include people who have a favorable impression of you in the workplace, classroom or on campus.  Examples include:

  • Current or previous work supervisors
  • Faculty
  • Campus administrators, advisors, coaches
  • Business colleagues, vendors, customers
  • Leaders in organizations where you volunteer

In the case of choosing someone to write a letter of recommendation, consider carefully whether you will choose to waive your right to read the recommendation and sign your recommendation form at the appropriate place. Though admissions committees recognize and respect that you have the legal right not to waive access to your recommendation, some schools or agencies may consider confidential letters more useful.

The Ask

Before requesting a reference or recommendation, it is a good idea to prepare the following information:

  • A description of the job, field, program or fellowship to which you are applying
  • A reminder for the person of how you know each other and why you are asking him/her to be a reference or recommendation at this particular time
  • A copy of a resume highlighting your accomplishments.
  • A copy of your transcript or an informal record printed from Sage
  • Accomplishments or projects you’ve completed for an employer, or copies of exams or papers you’ve written for an instructor, including your grades and comments
  • A copy of any portfolio elements, writing samples or personal statements you will be submitting along with your application.
  • When relevant, the program or institution’s reference/recommendation form, filled out appropriately. Many faculty members will choose to write theirs on formal letterhead instead of filling out an individual form. Ask them if they would like a stamped, addressed envelope to mail directly or if they prefer to return the letter in a signed, sealed envelope for you to send.

It is wise to allow someone at least two weeks notice to serve as a reference and one month to prepare a letter of recommendation.

Be sure to:

  • Secure the individual’s permission to be included on your reference or recommendation list.
  • Have the correct contact information.
  • Keep references informed of your progress including when and to whom you have given your reference sheet, especially if the interviewer indicates he/she will be contacting them.
  • Send a thank you note to each person who has worked on your behalf.