Professors, Research Advisors & Employers Can Be a Great Reference
By Priscilla Beth Baker
We are all guilty of procrastination from time to time, but what students often forget is how very busy professors, research advisors, and employers actually are in terms of their ability to provide a quick turnaround reference for a last-minute opportunity. I think students also fail to realize how incredibly long it can take to write a valuable reference that might make the difference between getting a job, scholarship, or graduate school position and not getting one. On average, I’d say these can take me anywhere from 1-3 hours. That is a big ask for already-stretched-thin people with multiple time commitments in any given day.
What follows is some overall advice to pass along to your children regarding asking for these references:
There needs to be a minimum of a 2-3 week lead time for a new reference (it can be less if you are asking for a recycled reference for another employer or grad school program). A week or less is not enough time to write a worthwhile reference and it speaks to an overall lack of commitment to the job, internship, scholarship, or grad program unless it is truly a last-minute opportunity.
You want to make sure you are asking professors, advisors, former bosses, and mentors who actually know you. Someone whom you have had minimal contact with will produce a very generic and meaningless letter that is not worth reading.
If you are asking teaching faculty, you need to remember that those instructors cannot speak to specifics about your academic performance due to FERPA, so knowing you beyond the “he/she did well in my class” is very important.
Always provide the person you are asking with your resume, statement of purpose, what you might like them to highlight about you specifically, and the job, scholarship, or grad school description as a frame of reference.
Clearly indicate the deadline for the reference and to whom it is to be addressed with relevant contact details if the company or school is not sending the writer a direct link for digital submission.
Don’t ever list someone as a reference without telling them you are doing so! I have had this happen to me multiple times where a student has listed me without my knowledge and I get a cold call from a company. Having to scramble to look up your record and try to remember you amidst hundreds of other students while on the phone with a potential employer is a terrible position to put someone in and does not bode well in terms of their subsequent impression of you. Just reach out and ask for permission to list us as a reference so we can be prepared to give you the glowing recommendation you deserve to separate you from the other applicants.
And PLEASE: Follow up with a thank you (maybe even some chocolate!) and let us know if you got the position or scholarship. To spend hours on a letter and never hear or only hear incidentally that you were successful is disheartening, to say the least, and it does not make us inclined to write you another reference which you will undoubtedly need in the future. Gratitude goes an awfully long way!
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