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Letters of Recommendation and References

Obtaining Letters of Recommendation

Some employers may request two or three letters of recommendation. Recommendations often come from faculty members or professionals in the field.  You may choose to request letters from previous work or internship supervisors, academic advisors or faculty who can speak to your knowledge of relevant subject matter.

It is important that the people you choose to write your recommendations know you well enough to compose a meaningful letter. Once you’ve identified likely candidates, make an appointment to talk with them. Explain your goals and why you’ve chosen the potential writer as one of your recommenders.  Share with him/her information about the position(s) you are applying for.  Ask whether the person is able to write a strong letter for you. Bring materials such as a copy of your transcripts, a resume, a copy of related coursework or projects, and/or a copy of a research paper which will assist them in commenting on your strengths. Be sure to bring the official recommendation forms (if needed) along with stamped, addressed envelopes for convenience. NEVER put a request for a recommendation in a professor’s P.O. without first having a conversation about your request. 

Steps you can take to ensure the success of your inquiry:

  • Read the St. Olaf English Department’s “How-to”
  • Lynda.com tutorial on asking for a recommendation
  • Natural Science/Math students requesting a recommendation for summer programs, please use this form.
  • Ask the writer in person whether they’re willing to write you a positive letter of recommendation.
  • Talk to them specifically about the potential routes you’re considering, and ask them if they’d be willing to write a general letter now, and keep it “on file” for you for when you’re ready to apply.
  • If they are willing, provide the following– a cover sheet that details your name, contact information (phone, email, home address), a summary of your goals, what you’d like them to specifically address in the letter (research skills, writing skills, your contribution to classroom discussion, TA skills, professional skills and characteristics, etc.), your relationship to them and how long you’ve known them, etc.  If you had them in class, you can attach a piece of work that you’re particularly proud of that you produced for their class as supplemental information. Fill out this Request Form to give the recommender this important information.
  • Attach a copy of your resume/CV so that they’re aware of all of the additional things in which you’ve been involved.
  • Attach a copy of your transcript, highlighting the relevant course(s) you’ve had.


Employers often ask that you provide references as part of the application process. Below are a few quick steps you can follow to create your reference sheet:

  • Always print your references on a separate sheet that will follow your résumé or save it as a separate document to be uploaded or attached if applying electronically.
  • Three references are standard, listing an additional two is helpful.
  • Start your reference sheet by duplicating the heading from your résumé – name, address, phone, and email.
  • Type the word “REFERENCES” centered under your heading.
  • Either centered or aligned with the left hand margin, type the name, title, address, phone number, and email address for each reference. Be sure to ask each person’s permission and inquire about what contact information they would like to have listed (work vs. home).
  • Use professional references (i.e. faculty, supervisors, academic advisors, etc.) rather than personal references (i.e. a friend’s parent, uncle, mom).
  • Sample Reference Sheet