References 101

I’ve had my resume and cover letter reviewed, and now you tell me that I need references as well?

During the interview process for an internship or job (especially if the employer is seriously interested in you), you will probably be asked to submit up to three references.


What is a reference?  A reference is a person who can attest to your reliability, initiative, work habits, knowledge, experience in the field, and other relevant work qualifications.

Why do I need references?  A potential employer needs to verify that the information on your resume and cover letter is, in fact, true. They may also want to ask a reference about qualities of your work experience and behavior that were not evident during the interview.

Who do I ask for a reference?  Think about your previous supervisors, professors, or anyone else who knows you in a work, volunteer, classroom, or team setting.  Since you are asking for a professional reference, it is not appropriate to ask a family member, roommate, or friend. Even though they may know about your character better than anyone, they will not be considered a professional reference!

How do I ask for a reference?  Unfortunately, you can’t just list people as references on a sheet of paper and hand it to the employer. You need to email or call your references to ask them if they would be able to serve as a strong reference.  You may need to reintroduce yourself (including how they know you). Be sure to explain what type of position you are applying for and share a copy of your resume.

Do I need a written recommendation? A written recommendation is ideal, but may be harder to obtain from a busy employer or professor. Ask for a written recommendation before you leave a position or finish a course with a professor who has come to know you well.  That way you have something in writing you can use in the future. If you can’t get a written recommendation, ask if the referrer would be open to replying to an employer’s questions via phone or email.

How do I list references:  Whether your reference(s) are written or verbal, check out our sample reference page at the end of our resume guide.

Remember, references could make or break getting an offer for your dream internship or job, so choose them wisely. If you have any questions about references, please schedule an appointment with a career counselor. Good luck!

%d bloggers like this: