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Career Services Students
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What About References?

Choosing Your References-

An employer considering you for a job will want to find out more about you by contacting your references. Here are some characteristics when selecting a good reference:

  • Knowledgeable about your work habits, character, special skills and potential
  • Enthusiastic about you and your career plans
  • Able to give detailed and accurate responses to questions about you as a candidate
  • Well respected in their field or in the local community
  • Generally you will be asked to provide a minimum of three references. Good choices are employers and faculty who would be able to attest to your skills and abilities. Other possibilities are advisors, co-workers, or individuals with whom you've worked in organizations or class projects. Have at least five references available as some employers may specify that your references are not to be faculty or supervisors.

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Asking for a Reference-

How do you approach a potential reference? First of all, begin early. Professors and former supervisors are busy people, so careful planning and persistent follow-up will be necessary.

For those of you applying to graduate school, you'll want to make sure professors get to know you so they can write quality letters of recommendation. Professors know who you are through your participation in class or by showing a special interest in their area of study. Visit professors after class or during office hours to discuss current issues in their field or class related topics.

For job search references, supervisors from current or past work experiences will be very important. They can communicate your work habits, skills, accomplishments and professionalism. Allow your references to work for you in your job or graduate school search by completing the following steps:

  • Get their permission
  • Give them plenty of advance notice, especially when they are writing letters
  • Make appointments with your references to share your immediate and long-range goals
  • Send a follow-up thank you note reiterating key points of your discussion
  • Brief them on your background and types of jobs you are seeking
  • Provide them with a resume to highlight your specific accomplishments
  • Utilize the recommendation file service in Career Services for your graduate/professional school letters of recommendation
  • When possible, give references advance warning when you know employers will be contacting them
  • Keep them informed of the specific positions you are seeking and notify them when you accept a position

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People Who Are Good References-

  • Faculty
  • Academic Advisors
  • Summer Work Supervisors
  • Coaches
  • Internship Supervisors
  • Club Advisors
  • Anyone who has seen you work

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Business meeting - filling out form.Are there reference forms to use? Not so much anymore.  Many students ask faculty/staff and employers to complete a reference and is placed in their portfolio. Typically the employer or graduate school will provide the form OR there is no form but the reference is asked to address key criteria.

Some faculty/staff prefer to write a letter on departmental stationery. Employers may feel the same way. Either way is fine. Remember to keep a copy of any reference given to you just in case you need it later.  Many employers now ask for a "Reference Page" which is all of your references's names, contact information and what their relationship is to you.  You will typically send the reference page with your resume and cover letter.

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Example Format-

In preparation for the job search, place references on a separate sheet according to the format below using the same paper and font style used for your resume:

References For (Your Name—Bold—larger font)
Your address, phone and e-mail 
(format the top of your reference page like the top of your resume)

Their Name 
Business Address
Phone Number (preferably work) 
E-mail address 
Their relationship to you

Employers typically contact references by phone, whereas graduate and professional schools usually request written letters. References are usually requested after a second interview, but keep a current list on hand at all times. If you develop a good professional relationship with your references, they will gladly assist you in your search.

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Bad Job References...-

What Information Can Your Former Employer Disclose? 
Loose-lips don't just sink ships..

They often devastate a job hunters ability to gain employmentAfter leaving a job, a former employer is free to pass along negative information about you to prospective employers, and most state laws protect them from legal recourse provided the information is job related; based upon credible evidence; and made without malice.

It is illegal for a former employer to purposefully give false information for the sake of harming one's reputation or preventing one from obtaining employment. In addition, personal information that is not job related should neither be asked about or provided by either a prospective or former employer. In general, it is inappropriate for a prospective employer to ask questions or a former employer to provide information about an individual's race, color, religion, sex, national or ethnic origin, age, disability status, marital status, sexual orientation, or parenting responsibilities.

Former employers who fear potential defamation and slander law suites have become crafty when answering employment reference questions. Rather than speak negatively about a former employee, some will opt to "No Comment" when asked critical employment questions regarding performance, termination, and eligibility for rehire. The inference of this is just as harmful to the employee as a bad reference, and if a prospective employer has to choose between two qualified applicants - one with positive references and the other with mediocre or bad references - who do you suppose they will choose?

Another common practice among leery employers is to refuse to give any information about an employee other than dates of employment and title. This is gross disservice to an employee who has dedicated years of faithful service to a company, yet gets no better of a reference then an employee who was fired for embezzlement.

Unfortunately, this policy is within the legal rights of an employer- provided the policy is an across the board policy that applies to all employees - not just a selected few. There have been cases successfully argued that an employer discriminated against an employee for not applying the same policy to all its employees.

*From References Etc.

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