Professional References

Many jobs will ask you for professional references. This will be a list of people you have asked to recommend you when directly contacted by a potential employer. It is more common for employers to call a candidate’s references rather than asking for reference letters. You should keep your references informed about what positions you are applying for and give them a copy of your resume to refer to.

Choosing Your References

As you start the job or internship search processes, compile a list of anyone that you might ask for a recommendation. These could be previous or current supervisors from jobs/internships, people you have supervised, or professors who know you and your work well. Generally, you will need 3-5 references, but having more lined up can be helpful since some may be more appropriate for certain jobs.  

It is important to choose wisely and select people that can speak well about your experiences, skills, accomplishments, and character. There could be situations that you did not necessarily see eye-to-eye with a supervisor. In this case, choose someone else from that same organization that has a more positive view of your performance. If a recruiter asks, you can say that this is the person that knows your work the best.

How to Ask

Depending on your relationship with the person, you might choose to ask in different ways. It usually is best to ask in-person or phone call, so it is more personal. However, this can sometimes put people on the spot and make them uncomfortable. Use your best judgement to decide if this is the most appropriate method to ask. Email is another option, but it is less personal and can take longer to receive a reply.  

Asking your references if they can give you a POSITIVE referral will also ensure that they are willing to talk highly about you. If your reference shows any hesitation or declines, thank them for their consideration and move on to the next person.  

Once they agree to be a reference, give them any supplemental information that can help them. Let them know what type or position you have applied for (or send them the job description). It is helpful to send them over your resume to refresh them on your educational and work history. This is also a great time to ask for the best email and phone number to be contacted at.

Creating a Reference Page

After you have your references confirmed, you can add them to a professional reference document for your application materials. It is appropriate to have 3-5 references. You will want your reference page to have the same header as your resume and cover letter. Here is a sample of how to write your reference information.


It is important to let your references know each time you submit their name, so they will be ready when they are contacted. It is also important to thank them for their time and show your appreciation. This will maintain your relationship for the future if you were to need a reference again someday.