Whether you are applying to a job, internship or graduate school, good references are an asset to your application. Having a mixture of professionals that can speak to your work ethic, experience, personality and professionalism is an important part of applying for opportunities.
So what makes someone a good reference? Who are the right people to ask? How do you go about making a reference request? We will dive into some tips, and remember, you can always make an appointment with Career and Professional Development Services for additional support.
What makes a good reference?
When considering someone to be a reference for you, make sure you have developed a good working relationship and that the individual understands your strengths. If a recommender is to advocate for you as a candidate they need to be able to provide specific examples about your skills and abilities.
It is also important that your reference is a person of integrity and is well respected in their scope of practice. This might seem obvious, but avoid requesting recommendations from someone who has a bad reputation or is unprofessional.
Who is a good candidate to ask for a reference?
In many cases you will be asked for 3-5 references, and depending on the opportunity you are applying for, there may be specific people you need to provide for your references.
Asking family and friends or professionals who have little to no experience working with you can raise a red flag to potential employers. References are asked specific questions to evaluate your level of professionalism, work ethic and skills. For this reason, past professors, supervisors and co-workers are typically the most valued references. Other appropriate people to reach out to may include colleagues, business contacts, customers or clients. Providing a variety of recommenders will offer a well-rounded perspective of who you are as a candidate.
How do you ask someone to be a reference for you?
Take time to network with people who may be a good fit for a reference. This includes in your workplace, classroom or other professional settings. When the time comes to provide references, here are the steps we recommend to follow:
Give your recommenders advance notice (at least a month if possible), and keep them informed about every opportunity for which they might be contacted.
When reaching out to a potential reference, provide them with the job description, instructions for recommenders and a copy of your resume. It can also be beneficial to share examples of your recent successes and the skills you possess that pertain to the position you are applying to. Here is an example: Strong presentation skills were evident in the 30+ presentations delivered to academic and student service partners as a student employee on campus.
Follow up to thank your references for participating in your application, and keep them updated on developments.
As your professional career evolves, ask permission for each additional opportunity you apply to.
Other helpful resources
Click here to access our Providing Professional References Handout for more tips and strategies. Following up with an advisor to practice your new skills can be done through Handshake by clicking here.