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Professional References & Letters of Recommendation

Cite this article as:"Professional References & Letters of Recommendation," in The Business Professor, updated December 15, 2019, last accessed July 14, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/lesson/professional-references-letters-of-recommendation/.


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Professional References (for Employment)

It is quite common for employers to request professional references from an applicant. It is becoming far less regular that employers request the list of references at the time of application. Generally, this takes place once the candidate is at the last stages of consideration for the position. For this reason, it is recommended that you not include references at the time of application. Instead, you can indicate at the bottom of your resume that references are available upon request.

When you are asked for a list of professional references, you should provide a succinct list of individuals who know you professionally. You should include the following information about the person:

  • Name:
  • Title: (Professional Title)
  • Contact Information: (Mail address, Phone Number)
  • Relationship to the Individual: (How the person knows you.)

Before providing someone’s name as a professional reference, you should always ask their permission and make them aware that you will be providing their names to employers. You do not want your reference to be surprised when contacted by the employer. In addition to being an inconvenience for the reference, this can lead to a negative impression for the employer. Imagine a scenario where the reference is caught of guard. It could result in a very poor reference – especially if your references struggles to recall specific things about you.

So, you should make certain your professional reference is aware of the potential contact. You should also provide your reference a brief summary updating them on where you are professionally. Remind them of the following:

  • School (if applicable), and what you studied.
  • Where you are living now.
  • The industry positions to which you are applying.
  • Your accomplishments that make you qualified. (You may include your resume).

Armed with this information, your reference will be well prepared to provide an excellent recommendation for you to be hired for the position.

Ask for a Letter of Recommendation (School or Employment)

Historically, students and former employees would ask for sealed letters of recommendation from professors and employers. They would provide these references when applying for jobs or when applying to graduate school. This practice has become largely outdated.

Now, as discussed above, employers generally only request contact references. Of course, it is not a bad idea to provide letters of recommendation to an employer. Today, however, given the ease of submitting applications electronically, applicants apply to many positions. It is unlikely that you have adequate letters of recommendation to submit to all (or many) of them.

Letters of recommendation are highly relevant when applying to educational programs. The format, however, has changed. Now, the process is completed electronically. You simply add the name, title, and contact information of your references. These individuals must then write the recommendation electronically or upload a digital copy of a recommendation letter.

This brings up an important point. If you are going to list a professor or employer as a reference for an academic program (or employment opportunity in which they will have to write a recommendation), you must ask permission beforehand. Schools generally provide the applicant with information about when letters of recommendation are requested and submitted on their behalf.

As an applicant, when you receive notice that a request for recommendation has been sent to your references, you should immediately reach out to your references. You should provide them with all of the information they will need to write you a letter of recommendation. I highly recommend that you pre-draft a letter of recommendation and send it to them. It should include relevant information about the relevant performance and accomplishments to which they can attest.

In any event, you should reach out to your reference and thank them again for their willingness to write a recommendation on your behalf. The real function of this is to remind your recommender about the request and how important it is to you. I can attest from experience that it is very common for employers and professors to put these types of tasks on the back burner (i.e., not prioritize these tasks). You reaching out to thank them will serve as a remind and motivator for them to go ahead and complete the electronic recommendation.

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