How to Ask for References and Recommendations

Who to Ask?

  • Three to four persons:  If you're a student or recent grad, ask  a faculty or staff member who knows you well (you can ask two or three)
  •  Former or current employer/supervisor
  •  Colleague / co-worker
  •  Personal reference (close friend, business acquaintances, professors/academic advisors, customers, and clergy, can all make good references. If you volunteer consider using leaders or other members of the organization as personal references.)  
  • Do not use  family member as references

The person giving the recommendation, or writing the letter should:

  • Know and be able to describe your work (i.e., academic, employment, or volunteer)
  • Have a high opinion of you, and be able to favorably compare you to your peers
  • Know that you are applying for the position
  • Know your educational or career goals
  • Be able to write a good letter (if necessary)
    •  Don't ask "Could you write a letter of reference for me?" Just about anyone can write a letter. The problem can be what they are going to write about. Rather, ask "Do you feel you know my work well enough to write me a good recommendation letter?" or "Do you feel you could give me a good reference?"

How and When to Ask?

  • Ask references early in the semester if they will be required to write a letter (allow three to four weeks minimum)
  • Explain why you need the reference, and why you selected him/her as a reference
  • If they will not be required to write a letter, ask for permission before including their name on a reference sheet attached to a resume
  • Again, ask reference if he/she knows you well enough and feels comfortable giving, or writing a positive recommendation for you

What to Provide?

Make an appointment to speak with your references and provide them with the following information:

  • Postage-paid addressed envelope (if letter will be mailed)
  • Academic Transcript
  • Résumé or vita
  • Future goals
  • Research experiences, internships and other applicable experiences
  • Due date for the application (if writing a letter)

Important Details

  • Confidential letters tend to carry more weight; therefore, it is highly suggested that you waive your right to see the recommendation letters.
  • Follow-up with your references after about 2 weeks to make sure the letters are being written, then again in another 2 weeks.
  • Send each reference a thank you note immediately following the completion of a letter.