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Everything you need to know about job references

The current job-seeking arena is a bit like a busy beehive – dynamic, complex and with a well-organized structure that helps those who put an effort into learning how it works. Some elements of this structure are job ads, job applications, CVs and portfolios and, last but not the least, job references.


What is a reference?

A reference letter or letter of recommendation is a letter that someone with an understanding and knowledge of your professional or academic qualifications writes to recommend you to your future employer or academic institution. It is a piece of paper that makes your job application more personal and authentic. To put it in today’s increasingly popular digital marketing lingo, it is a trust signal to potential employers.

Who can I ask to give me a reference?

Anyone who’s had some working or academic experience with you can give you a recommendation. Examples include previous employers, any other superiors at your previous job, college professors or graduate assistants whose classes you attended, people in charge of any volunteering work you’ve done in the past, etc.

When should I ask them for a reference?

Make sure you give your recommendation writers enough time to compose a letter for your future application. Anything less than two weeks prior to your application deadline is probably too short for a busy person such as your employer or professor. A month is probably the best solution because it gives the recommendation writers enough time to plan out and write the letter, but not too much time to let them forget about your application. It is a good idea to keep track of how they are progressing using polite reminders.

How should I make contact with my recommendation writer?

Phone calls, emails or direct communication are all equally appropriate when contacting someone with this sort of request. If you are requesting a recommendation via email, follow up with a phone call after a day or two to make sure the person received the email. Methods of communication will also depend on your intimacy with the recommendation writer. If it is someone you worked with on a daily basis, a friendly phone call is an appropriate way to get in touch. If it is someone you had limited communication with, you might want to set up a formal meeting or write them an official email, followed up with a phone call.

What should I do if I have no previous employers?

As mentioned earlier, anyone who has insight into your qualifications can recommend you to a future employer. If you just finished college, your future employers will be curious to learn what your college professors or graduate assistants think of your work ethic, commitment to study materials, ability and curiosity to learn new things, communication with peers, ability to work in a team, etc.

The final word of advice is to make sure your reference letter is written by a person who enjoyed working with you and who will give you a positive review of your skills and personal traits.