By Lori Greenawalt, Student Development Adviser
What is the difference between professional references and recommendations?
As you apply for internships and jobs, employers may ask you to supply them with a short list of references. Most commonly, three references are requested. A professional reference is a person who can vouch for your qualifications. You supply the employer with the contact information for your professional references and the employer may contact them with questions about your professional skills and candidacy.
Instead of asking for a short listing of professional references, some employers might ask you for letters of recommendations or the application might supply a link to a recommendation form that you are asked to send to past employers, supervisors, or professors who can recommend you as a candidate.
Who should I select as my references and recommenders
Professional references are different than the type of references you might supply when filling out a rental application for housing. While a landlord would be interested in speaking to your family friends, an employer would prefer to speak to people who have known you in a professional capacity (past supervisors, coordinators from volunteer projects, professors, etc). The same is true when determining whom you will ask to write letters of recommendation for you.
Ideally you should select people who can speak about your professional skills and qualifications in relation to the opportunity you are seeking to gain. When possible, it is preferable that your references have known you for at least a year or longer and have experience supervising you in a professional capacity. Since you might be applying for more than one opportunity, you may ask the same people to serve as references and write letters of recommendation for you. It is vitally important that you only select people who will feel comfortable providing you with a positive reference or recommendation.
For advice on selecting references and recommenders for law schools and health professional schools, please consult with Laurie T. Baulig, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising and Glenn N. Cummings, Ph.D., Director of Health Professions Advising.
How should I thank my references and recommenders?
It is crucial that you formally thank anyone who serves as a reference or provides you with a recommendation. There is nothing wrong with a thank you email but that takes limited effort on your part. Ideally, you should send your references and recommenders an individualized thank you note. This provides them with something tangible and will likely mean more to them than a simple email.
As you continue to interview for positions or receive offers, you should provide your references and recommenders with periodic updates. They have invested time and effort into recommending you and look forward to hearing about your successes and might be able to provide insightful advice.