Hiatt Career Center

References and Recommendations

A student meets with a Hiatt Career Counselor

What Is a Reference?

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. 

You will most likely be asked for a list of references when you are being considered for a job, internship, or volunteer position. You will want to choose people who will speak highly of 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

Be sure that your reference list is proofread and error-free, including correct spelling of names, appropriate titles and accurate contact information. Usually, you are asked to send a list via email. If you provide a hard copy, use quality paper.

What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a written statement supporting your application. Letters of recommendation are often required when you apply to graduate schoolfunding 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.

Many programs that require a letter of recommendation will provide you a form that will include a confidentiality waiver. Although you are not required to waive your right to read the letter, most selection committees believe that the assessment is more reliable if the writer can be confident that the subject (you) does not have access to their comments.

It is best for letters to be written shortly before they are submitted. If you believe that you will not have access to a writer when you are ready to apply, consider storing their letter online through Interfolio. Some graduate school applications, such as for law school or a masters in public health, have a centralized application process, requiring an account through which all elements of your application, including the letter of recommendation, will be submitted. If you will be applying within five years, you can create the account and store the letter there instead of paying an additional fee to Interfolio.

Choosing an Advocate

Cameron Samuels '26 works in s study space in Usdan at Brandeis University on January 18, 2023. Photo/Dan HolmesWhen deciding whom to ask for a reference or recommendation, think about: 

  • Is the individual willing to provide strong, favorable information about you?
  • 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?  If special circumstances arise and you are forced to ask for a reference or recommendation on short notice, be sure to confirm 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

Friends and relatives who may be biased toward your abilities traditionally are not the best choices, as they may be perceived by a program or employer as lacking objectivity.

What if you are asked to provide more references than people who come to mind?

  • Brainstorm about people who can speak to one or more of your qualifications for the job.  Who else has seen you in a role where you exhibited a skill that is relevant for this position?
  • Come to Hiatt and meet with a counselor who may be able to assist you in thinking of alternative people who can speak on your behalf.
  • Speak to the program/employer — perhaps there are non-traditional sources that they appreciate, or they may be willing to accept fewer than the original number that was requested.

The Ask

Do not simply drop off a reference form in a professor’s box or send them a casual email. Ask to set up a time to speak about whether they would be willing to be a reference or write a letter for you. 

Be considerate: give someone at least one week's notice to serve as a reference and two months to prepare a letter of recommendation.

The following information is often helpful to people who act as a reference or letter writer:

  • Application materials, such as your resume, writing samples or personal statements and transcript.
  • A brief discussion regarding why you are pursuing this degree or position.
  • Mention the specific strengths or experiences you believe this person is in a position to address as a reference or in writing a letter of recommendation.
  • For a supervisor, have a description of any accomplishments or projects you’ve completed for this person; for a professor, copies of exams or papers you’ve written for their class, including your grades and comments.
  • Instructions as to how to submit the letter, or when and who will be contacting them.

Be sure to:

  • Secure the individual’s permission to be included on your reference or recommendation list.
  • 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.