Letters of Recommendation and References

Letters of Recommendation

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a letter to a potential employer, organization, or program that emphasizes your strengths and casts your professional attitude or work ethic in a positive light.

How many letters of recommendation will you need?

The employer, organization, or program to which you are applying will tell you how many letters you need to submit. The number of letters can range from one (1) to as many as six (6), with the typical number being two (2) or three (3).

If the employer, organization, or program wants more than one letter, choose recommenders who can highlight different skills or strengths, or who can reflect on different kinds of work or study.

Who typically writes letters of recommendation for college students?

Recommendations often come from faculty members or professionals in your field. You may choose to request letters from previous supervisors (work, research, internships), academic advisors, or faculty who can speak to your knowledge of a relevant field.

How do you choose the right person to write a letter of recommendation?

Your recommender needs to know you well enough to compose a meaningful letter. We suggest that you meet with the writer, in person, to ask

  • whether the writer knows you well enough to be a recommender, and
  • whether the writer can draft a positive letter on your behalf

When should you ask for letters of recommendation?

Get in touch with your recommenders as early as possible!

  • If you are requesting letters from faculty, we recommend that you make an appointment to meet with them at least two months before the deadline for submitting the letter
  • It takes time to write a good letter, and recommenders are often writing for many people
  • Please review the St. Olaf English Department’s “How-to” Guide for requesting letters of recommendation. This guide includes an ideal timetable for faculty

What do you need to do to help your recommender write a good letter?

People writing letters of recommendation appreciate it when you follow the steps below:

  • Make an appointment to talk in person with your recommender
  • Explain your goals and why you would like the person to be one of your recommenders
  • Give the person information about the position(s) for which you are applying
  • Give the person a copy of your transcript, a resume, a copy of related coursework or projects, and/or a copy of a research paper to assist the person in commenting on your strengths
  • Bring any official forms for the recommendation — along with stamped, addressed envelopes for convenience if the application asks for a recommendation by mail

What other steps can you take to make the process as smooth as possible for your writer?

References

Employers often ask you to provide references as part of the application process.

What is a reference?

A reference is a statement given by a person (known as a “referee”) to a potential employer, organization, or program. In giving a reference, the referee will share positive information about your former employment, internship, research, volunteering or other experiences.

Referees usually share information over the telephone or in response to an email. Referees typically do not write letters of recommendation.

How many references will you need?

Employers, organizations, and programs typically ask for three (3) references. A good rule of thumb is always to have three (3) referees available to speak on your behalf.

Whom can you ask to give you a reference?

References typically come from faculty members or professionals in your field. You may choose to request references from previous supervisors, academic advisors, or faculty who can speak to your knowledge of a relevant field.

Use professional references (faculty, supervisors, academic advisors, etc.) rather than personal references (a friend’s parent, an uncle, your immediate family).

You may ask the same people who are writing letters of recommendation to give you a reference.

How do you gather references?

It is important to call or write potential referees to get their permission to list their names before you give their names to an employer, organization, or program. Referees do not like surprise telephone calls!

If the person says “yes,” ask what contact information (work vs. home) the referee would like to use.

How can you help your referee prepare to give you a reference?

Ask if you may share the following information to help your referee give a good reference:

  • Information about the position(s) for which you are applying
  • Your goals, including why you would like the person to be one of your referees
  • Copies of your resume, related coursework or projects, and/or a research paper to assist your referee in commenting on your strengths

How do you prepare a written reference sheet?

When employers, organizations, or programs ask you for references, they want you to give them a written reference sheet. Follow the steps below.

  • Start your reference sheet by duplicating the heading from your resume: name, address, telephone number, and email
  • Type the word “REFERENCES” centered under your heading
  • Type the name, title, address, phone number, and email address for each reference
  • You may center your references on the page or align them with the left hand margin
  • Always print your references on a separate sheet
  • Save your reference sheet as a separate document to be uploaded or attached if applying electronically
  • Organize your documents so that your reference sheet follows your resume

Take a moment to review a Sample Reference Sheet