Requesting References & Recommendations
NOTE: (If you are applying to transfer to a 4-year university, use the Transfer Credentials Package here)
- Make sure you understand what the employer or university wants you to provide. An employer may ask you for 3 references, but do they want 3 letters of reference or do they want the names & phone numbers of 3 people they can speak to about you? For employment purposes, usually the employer wants to talk to your references. In that case, you don’t want to ask a professor or staff member to write an unnecessary letter, only to have to go back to them and ask if they will speak to the employer.
- Think carefully about who you will ask. Identify a faculty, administrator or staff member who knows you well enough to provide a positive reference. If you ask a professor who only knows you in class … but you never participated very much and your performance or attendance was shaky, why would you ask that professor? Much better to ask someone who can add value to your application by describing good qualities that wouldn’t appear on your application or transcript.
- If you want to ask a professor in person but you aren’t sure what to say, MCC Professor Tracy Young from the Biology Department suggests you say something like this: “Do you feel you know me well enough to provide a positive reference? If so, would you be willing to do so and what do you need me to provide to you?” We agree – this is a great approach!
- Ask the professor or staff member at least three (3) weeks before the recommendation/letter is due. If the professor’s department requires the form listed below, fill it out completely (in fact, you can use the attached form even if the department doesn’t ask for it).
- If you are not requesting a letter but a potential employer will be calling your references, it’s a good idea to complete this form and submit it BEFORE you give out the name of your references – or visit your professor during office hours to ask if you can use him/her as a reference. NEVER LIST A REFERENCE IF YOU HAVE NOT ALREADY ASKED THEIR PERMISSION TO DO SO. Faculty & staff members may decline to speak to an employer about you without your permission, and if that happens, it will not reflect well on your application.
- Supply all the contact information your professor will need to complete the reference. If you use the form below, your professor should have everything s/he needs to complete your recommendation. If you don’t use the form, read it anyway because all that information is exactly what you will need to give your professor.
- It is your responsibility to provide:
- the complete contact information where the reference or recommendation must be sent
- the purpose of the reference (application to a university/program? Job?)
- names of those to whom your information can be released
- deadlines or due dates by which the receiving organization must have your recommendation/reference in hand
- Some professors and staff members may want to meet with you to discuss the recommendation and learn more about your goals. Others may ask you to provide additional information. For example, Ana Class-Rivera of Counseling at MCC says even when she has worked closely with a student, she may not know all of the pertinent details needed to write a strong recommendation. For that reason, she always asks students to provide her with a copy of their resume or list of accomplishments & a description of the program or job they are applying for. This information helps her match the recommendations to the requirements of the job or university.
- If the professor feels s/he doesn’t know you well enough to provide the recommendation or if the professor does not believe his/her recommendation will add value to your application, s/he may decline to do so. Identify someone who knows your academic/professional performance better.
- One week or so after you request your references/recommendations, it’s OK to politely ask the professor if s/he has had a chance to complete it.
- Send a thank-you note to all who provided references for you. You may not realize how much time each professor/staff member devotes to each and every recommendation, nor how many requests faculty get from students each semester. You will distinguish yourself by acknowledging their efforts with a thank-you.
- Once you find out you got the job or received your acceptance, let your reference writers know of your success. We are really interested and would enjoy hearing about your accomplishment!
You’ve worked very hard and now you have an opportunity right in front of you. Your references can play a very big role in this process, so handle this with great care! And most of all, don’t wait until the last minute to ask if someone will provide you with a reference.