Recommendation (Reference) Letters

When applying for a new job, you will often be asked to provide either professional letters of recommendation or a list of people to be contacted in the future by the prospective employer.   The individuals you reference may include supervisors who are familiar with your professional, leadership, and work experiences, or even professors who are can speak to your academic abilities and class involvement.  Make sure the professionals you select are able to provide valuable input into your abilities based on the type of job for which you are applying.  Customize your list based on their relationship to you and what they might share to advance your chances of landing your desired opportunity.

Key Tips

  • Follow directions during application process
  • Does the company want letters of recommendation or a list of references to contact?
  • Letters of recommendation are more common for human services fields such as education, counseling, social services.  A list of references is more common for business and information technology fields
  • Know how many letters of recommendation or reference names are requested
  • Update your references on the status of your job search regularly
  • Keep references current (update every 3-5 years)

Who can testify to my abilities?

  • Past and present supervisors from work or volunteer experiences
  • Faculty members/professors
  • Mentors and coaches
  • Do NOT use people who know you only in a social setting such as family or friends
  • Student teachers should ask their supervising teacher
  • If multiple references are needed, select people based on their ability to showcase your different experiences

How do I ask individuals to serve as references?

  • In reviewing the job description, reflect on relationships you've had with people where you demonstrated the competencies and qualifications desired
  • Contact these people to ask and confirm their willingness to positively testify to your ability to perform the job

What information should I provide my references?

  • Examples of the information you would like him/her to highlight (certain projects or strengths they have seen you display which are relevant for the job to which you are applying)
  • Copy of the job posting including the name of the organization, position title, and position description
  • Most recent resume
  • Be clear as to whom the letter should be addressed and how to submit the recommendation letter (scanned online, mailed, etc)
  • Suggest that company letterhead be used when crafting the letter
  • Provide a deadline to submit the letter by and allow plenty of time for the letter to be written (3-4 weeks is suggested)
  • If a reference name list has been requested, be sure to include the proper contact information where they can easily be reached (educators, avoid using school phone numbers which are inaccessible during the summer.  Typically this list is included as part of an application or as an additional sheet to the cover letter and resume.  The entries will look something like this:

Anna Lorning
Current Supervisor
Office Manager  - DeWeese Health Center
Kent State University
P.O. Box 5190
Kent, Ohio 44242
(330) 672-2252
alorning @

Professionally Managed Reference File

Internet sites such as Interfolio provide professional credentials services for a nominal fee.  Using an online, credentials service allows you to collect, store, update, and request referrals of recommendation letters and application materials via a single, secure website.  Benefits include 24/7 availability, speedy service, confidentiality, and the ability for your references to submit their recommendation letters on-line.

Some documents included in a reference file often include a resume/curriculum vitae, cover letter, letters of recommendation, writing/project samples, official transcripts, teacher certification/teaching license, and application form (if required).