Dos and Don’ts When Asking for References

References and recommendation letters can be the most intimidating part of a job application, perhaps because they feel least within your own control.  It may be daunting to ask someone else to talk about you, but here are some suggestions for how to set yourself up for success. 

  • DO obtain permission from your reference before sending in your application. 

While it may seem self-explanatory, it’s essential to obtain your references’ permission before sending their contact information to an employer.  Make sure to notify them about each individual application you put them down for and send them the job listing or a brief description of each job.  Be ready to send a resume or other application materials as well.   

  • DON’T use a friend or a family member.   

While character and personality are important, using someone with a strictly personal relationship to you isn’t going to be impressive to recruiters.  Be thoughtful about who you ask, and make sure they can testify to your professional or academic abilities as well as your character.  And never ask a friend or peer to pose as an employer… it could jeopardize your opportunity, and recruiters will likely be able to tell if something is off.   

  • DO include people with a variety of relationships with you 

References can include professors, employers, colleagues, advisors and mentors.  A well-rounded reference list will include people who can testify to your academic background, professional experience and personal character.  Some references may be able to discuss multiple of these, but asking people who have experienced different sides of you can showcase a more well-rounded picture of your personality.   

  • DON’T neglect information about your references 

At minimum, every reference list should include each individual’s name, phone number, email, current role/job title and a summary of their relationship to you.  Additionally, you can choose to indicate their preferred method of contact.   

  • DO maintain a documented reference network 

As you look for jobs in the future, it helps to consistently keep track of people who support you and see the benefit in your work and abilities.  Maintain contact with people who have offered you references in the past and keep a spreadsheet or document with information in case you decide to use them for another job application down the road.   

  • DON’T include references on your resume 

Many job listings will include a section for references on the application, or include directions on how to submit them.  Regardless, don’t include references on your resume.  It takes up valuable space and will be requested by the employer if necessary.  Also, stay away from saying that ‘references are available upon request.’  This is implied. 

  • DO keep your references up to date (and thank them) 

If you get the job, let your reference know!  This is critical both as a personal courtesy and to maintain a supportive professional relationship with them in the future.  Thank them for their time, and if possible, keep them informed as you continue on your career journey.  They helped you get to where you are today.  

As always, don’t forget to drop by the MU Career Center with any follow-up questions.  You got this!