Career Tip of the Month: Identify Job References

Students headed to graduate school will have to solicit letters of recommendation for their applications. Those moving directly into the job market, on the other hand, will probably not need letters. They will need to provide the names of people who can serve as job references. Here are some “dos” and “don’ts” for selecting and working with your references.

  • Do ask people to serve as references, rather than just assuming they are willing.

  • Do make the request of people who know you well and who can speak to your abilities in areas that are relevant for that job.

  • Do ask politely whether the individual feels he/she can be a good reference for you.

  • Do think about whether faculty members would be the best job references for you. Potential employers often ask about your interpersonal skills, maturity, skills working with children (or other relevant group), maturity, responsibility, and so on. It can be very difficult for professors to answer those questions if they have only worked with you in a lecture-based class. On the other hand, if you have worked with a professor on an internship, RA, or TA, he or she may have many things to say about your applied skills.

  • Do follow-up with references, letting them know if you got the job and sending a thank-you note regardless.

And, on the other hand…

  • Don’t use personal references, unless you have been specifically told by the employer they are appropriate. You might have used individuals like a family friend or minister as references in the past, but they will probably not be good professional references now.

  • Don’t include someone’s name as a reference on your resume or a job application without asking first. Even if the person is willing, it can make you look bad and hurt your application if the potential employer calls, and your reference is obviously unprepared.