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References

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Prospective employers will likely check references before hiring you, as well as do a background check. These can be handled differently depending on whether you are a student or an experienced graduate. Review the guidelines included in this section for tips on how to deal with these requests.

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The Ask

References can tip the balance, and are only beneficial if very positive – an average recommendation does not help and can even hinder your chances.

Experienced Graduate:  Ask constituents who are familiar with your work. This can be tricky if your current employer does not know that you are seeking another opportunity, so think of those who have left your current employer with whom you used to work. Perhaps ask someone at your current organization who you trust. Consider clients, customers, perhaps even a competitor who knows you well. A former professor or University faculty member with whom you worked closely could also serve as a reference. The key is for the recommender to be able to speak in detail about the work you performed, the type of colleague you were and your work ethic.

Current Student:  Ask a colleague or supervisor from a prior internship, work or research experience. A current or former professor, University faculty member or Dean with whom you worked closely could also serve as a strong reference. Don’t go for “name brand” references who don’t know your work well - it’s better to ask a person who could speak glowingly and in detail about your work than have a senior person speak in vague generalities.

How to Ask

It is important to prepare the recommender well in advance of any reference call.

  • Send them an email explaining what you are seeking, and follow up with a phone call.
  • Explain your reasons for seeking a new job and describe the new job/role.
  • Provide them with the name of the person who will be calling and, if possible, his/her bio.
  • Email them a copy of your current resume, the job description and any information you have that may strengthen their ability to give you a glowing reference. 
  • Remind the person of projects that you might have worked on together, or any other parts of your work history that you would like this person to highlight.

Follow up

Always follow up and thank your references. If you get the job, be sure to tell all those who served as references. Stay in touch with your references – you never know when you might need them in the future.

Unofficial References

Not all references are “official.”  Potential new employers will often do their own research. This may include checking out your Linkedin Profile, including the recommendations section, your Facebook page (make sure it’s “cleaned up”), and reaching out to contacts they may know your previous employer.

Letters of Recommendation

In most cases employers ask for a list of professional references. It is rare that an employer will ask for a confidential letter of recommendation, but it may happen. If a recommender asks you to provide a draft of your own recommendation, provide the recommender with this sample draft from the National Association of Colleges & Employers. You may also ethically provide a list of bullet points you would like the letter to address and/or a factual narrative of key achievements (avoid adjectives). Explain that you are unable to write a draft that provides the kind of judgment and comparative evaluation that only the recommender can provide and that helps make for a strong recommendation.

Background Checks and Drug Tests

Prior to starting a new job, you may undergo a background check and drug test. Background checks include criminal background search and sexual offender registry check. If, for any reason, there is an issue from your past, address it head on with the Human Resources professional at your potential new employer rather than letting them discover it on their own.