From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

November 2021
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Letter of Reference or Recommendation
Filed under: Interviewing, Public Relations docs, Mentoring, Mature professionals, Post-docs
Posted by: site admin @ 8:52 am

As some of you know, my situation
might be like yours at this point. 
Recently, two offers came in positively.

One mentioned that “your references
were excellent and described many of
the skill
s that make you a perfect

So it will be important for me to relay
to the people who so kindly provided the
references to offer some feedback and
especially personal thanks.

For this blog, several topics might be
worth covering.  They include:

References vs. recommendations (Main)


Steps in the process and some good practices (2)

Who to ask (3)

Internet social networking recommendations (4)

Questions asked of references (5)

Do’s and don’t’s (6)

Thoughts on situations (7).

To provide highlights of this in this blog,
each item above will be presented as a
comment.  Title element of each comment
will be at the beginning and the numbers
in parentheses above refer to the comment
to look up…

Let’s see if this works…

Martin Yate points out “the better the job
and the higher the pay, the tougher the
screening process. So if you’re being
considered for a top job, it’s likely that
your references will be checked thoroughly.”

“Surprisingly, few candidates realize that
a primary reason they don’t earn a job offer
is because their references failed them.
Instead, they assume a better candidate
beat them out of the job, or that they
performed poorly at some stage of the
interview process.
But about half of all checked references
fall into the mediocre to poor category,
say human resources professionals.”

“At this stage of the job-search process,
you must be certain that your references
will seal the deal, not blow it away.”

The RileyGuide hits the nail on the head
for describing the difference between
letters of reference and recommendation.

References are … for most job
situations.  If you have a former supervisor
you can approach for a reference, or a
former colleague, these are the best
references to list on an application.
Most references are oral…

If you have been laid off, request a
letter of reference from your current
supervisor.  Calls to the HR department
will only result in verification of your
dates of employment and job position
and won’t discuss how well you did in
your job. “

Recommendations are formal letters
usually written by your academic
advisor(s) or, if you are lucky, a respected
person in your field who is familiar with
you and your work.

They are used to support an application
for an academic or research position,
including continued study or post-doc

Who writes these letters is as important
as your own credentials and his or her
name behind yours is a real boost to
your potential.

You often are usually not given an
opportunity to review these letters,
nor should you ask to review them.
They are confidential and meant only
for those reviewing your application.”

“…References and recommendations
written for you to get into a study
program should not be re-used for a
job search.
Your writers addressed these letters
for one purpose. They may not address
what an employer needs to hear.”


6 Responses to “Letter of Reference or Recommendation”

  1. site admin Says:

    Steps in the process and some good practices (2)

    One way to help a job search is to learn what
    potential references will say.  You want to use
    your best references with confidence in your ability.

     1.  make a list of your prospective references,
    using the first job that’s relevant to the position
    you’re seeking.
    [To help you decide who to approach about
    serving as a reference, don’t forget the following
    contacts, besides supervisors, manager’s and
    experts in your field: prior jobs/positions,
    clients and contractors, and volunteer roles
    select those whom you think will be most
    willing to provide an excellent report.]
     2.  select references that have seen you in action,
    hopefully performing well. 
    [Sometimes former co-workers, or
    supervisors in other departments who know
    your work, make the best choices. The key
    is choosing people who know your strengths
    and abilities and who will say positive
    things about you.] 
    [College students and recent grads have a
    little more flexibility.  Select references
    in addition to professors and personal
    references from internships or volunteer
    work .
    Avoid listing family members; Former
    coaches, vendors, customers,  clergy,
    and business acquaintances are acceptable.]
     3.  for each potential reference, gather the
    following data: Name, Title, Affiliation,
    Address, Telephone Number, e-mail. 
     4.  meet with each reference personally.
    - Be sure to bring a copy of your current
    resume so they can see how you’re marketing
    yourself to prospective employers.
    - tell them the types of positions you’re
    applying for and the qualities those
    companies are seeking.
    - make it clear that their reference is critical
    to you getting the job.
    - refresh the memories of your references
    regarding the position you held.
    - Review your past responsibilities and
    results you achieved
      5.  Seek permission to use someone as
    your reference. Be sure and ask.   Be
    prepared for a few to decline your request.
      6.  Keep references informed and up to
      7.  Once you land a new position, be
    sure to inform your references about the
    details. Some companies contact selected
    references. Regardless, these people are
    willing to help you, and thanking them
    is a common courtesy.  Don’t forget to
    offer your services if they ever need a
    knowledgeable reference.
    Quintcareers is also a good resource.



  2. site admin Says:
    Who to ask?

    Q. Should you tap only people who
    were your managers as references?

    A. Not necessarily. Years ago, it was
    more common to list only supervisors. 
    Now it is acceptable to list former
    co-workers and subordinates, along
    with vendors and business associates,
    P. Korkki NYTIMES Career Couch says.

    Co-workers who have moved to
    different companies are particularly valuable
    as references because they may no longer
    be bound by the former employer’s policy,
    according to

    Choose people who know your work, are
    enthusiastic supporters of yours, and have
    strong communication skills (know the role
    of the reference.)

    Look at the Thoughts on cases comment for
    other thoughts.
  3. site admin Says:
    Internet social networking, use of the internet and reference listing recommendations (4)

    Although various networks allow
    recommendations to be sought and
    offered, it is still not common to use
    social networking websites as your
    source of references.

    That may change.

    However, there are all sorts of
    indications that the internet is a
    growing tool to “screen out” candidates
    for postions.

    - Execunet reports: “75% of recruiters
    use search engines to uncover
    information about candidates, and
    26% of recruiters have eliminated
    candidates because of information
    found online.”
    - Careerbuilder reports: “More than
    one-in-ten admit to using social
    networking sites in their candidate
    screening processes.
    […] Fully half of hiring managers
    who used search engines to research
    candidates didn’t hire the person
    based on what they found. Of the
    managers who browsed social
    networking sites, 63 percent found
    dirt that caused them to dismiss a
    candidate.” Clean up or know what
    is in cyberspace that can trace
    back to you.
    - Kate Lorenz reports: “77 percent
    of recruiters run searches of
    candidates on the Web to screen
    applicants; 35 percent of these
    same recruiters say they’ve
    eliminated a candidate based
    on the information they

    Even worse, you can get in trouble
    with your current boss for things
    on your personal pages.”

    There is some controversy where
    references should be listed. My
    suggestion based on study, observation
    and experience is to create a personal
    “resume file” that contains your resume.
    The list of References is not part of
    your resume, but you can insert it as
    a separate page in your “resume file.”
    The top of the page gives” LIST OF
    REFERENCES and your name; the
    names, titles, addresses and connection
    to you are provided.

    Consider not providing references to
    employers until they request them.
    Do keep a list of references with you
    when interviewing so that you can be
    prepared to present them when the
    employer asks.
  4. site admin Says:

    Questions asked of references (5)

    Randall Hansen provides the following
    typical questions references are asked:

    Can you please describe how you
    know the candidate? And for how long?

    How would you rate this candidate’s skills …?

    If you were in a position to hire this
    candidate for a similar position, would
    you do so?

    Do you have any additional information
    or comments that might help us make
    a better decision about this candidate?

    The web-site provides several others…

  5. site admin Says:

    References “do’s and don’t’s”

      -choose references carefully. 
      -contact them in advance,
      -make sure that they are prepared
    to speak favorably and in detail about
    your performance.
      -lay that groundwork, if you don’t 
    you may be surprised at what your
    references are saying about you —
    if you ever find out.
      -consider three to five references
    from different categories who
    enthusiastically support your
      -get permission to use someone as
    a reference.
      -keep your references informed and
    thank them when your search is
      -use care when particpating in internet

    DON’TS .
      -don’t even bother with generic
    “letters of recommendations.”
      -consider not listing names of
    references on your resume.
      -avoid listing family members as references.

  6. site admin Says:

    Thoughts on situations (7)

    Q1: Please settle an controversy. Two years
    ago, I left a big company to take a job
    with a startup, and it turned out to be
    a disaster. The management was chaotic,
    there were no systems in place, and
    everybody was into … office politics.
    After about nine months, I couldn’t take
    it anymore and quit, on very bad terms
    with my boss.

    I went back to my old employer, but now
    my whole division here is being outsourced,
    and I’m job hunting again. Several
    interviewers have asked me for references
    from my last three jobs. I know I can get
    good recommendations from my current
    employer, but not from the Startup from Hell.
    I’d like to just leave that whole experience
    off my resume (and my list of references)
    and pretend I never worked there.

    Is it true prospective employers will find out
    if it is not mentioned on the resume?

    A:Absolutely. “This … is one of …the …
    myths of job references,” Anne Fisher
    mentions in her article Seven Deadly
    Myths of Job References.  Employers
    can, and do, get references without
    your giving them, or even knowing
    who is being contacted.”

    Companies do a Social Security check,
    which will reveal everyplace you’ve ever
    worked, so leaving a bad experience off
    your resume will just make ask what
    you’re trying to hide.

    Fisher describes a proactive strategy
    [that I add] should be considered
    before you leave.  Try to work
    differences out.  Resolve them and
    agree to understand each others’
    situations.  If you have moved on
    go ‘more than half way’ to meet
    and work through previous differences.
    Open up lines of communications. 
    Look at every interaction so that
    you ‘don’t burn the bridges.’

    If you leave and cannot resolve
    differences, be prepared to speak
    honestly in your interviews about
    the circumstances.  Fisher notes,
    “It isn’t that unusual to have
    philosophical differences, or a
    personality clash, with a former boss.”

    Q. What should you say when asking 
    someone to be a reference?

    A.  It was interesting this year in not
    only being asked by many people to
    be a reference, but also to need to
    ask people to be references for me.

    The first I do when I am asked is I
    indicate what my general impression
    would be– I can give you a strong
    reference, I think you might seek out
    another person, like so and so for a

    Then I seek out what positions they
    seek and for a copy of the public
    relations documents and cover letter
    for each. 

    In most cases the discussions are in
    person with no other people in earshot.

    For myself, I have personally asked
    my previous boss who stated that he
    would be pleased.  Just keep him
    informed.  Other people I have 
    and had several conversations about
    the circumstances while maintaining
    excellent work habits.  [It is assumed,
    but often not seriously observed that
    ‘one oh, shit!’ removes twenty-five
    ‘atta boys’,  so don’t mess up in the
    late stages of employment.  It can
    haunt you just as much.]

    Later conversations describe my near
    term plans where I sincerely ask if
    they can be of assistance as a
    references.  Normally, the conversation
    goes well and we arrange details. 
    From the working arrangements
    or the tone of the conversation
    you need to listen in between the
    lines to sense if it will be a solid reference.

    Then, I make it easy for the reference. 
    I send pertinent details and ask if I can
    help them in any particular way.

    Q. What is a professional way to
    leave a company so that you can
    say you left in good graces and
    would be asked to return if situations
    improved or you could ask people for
    references for other positions?

    A:  Strategically, it is best to anticipate
    if you are potentially going to be asked
    to be involved in a ‘reduction in force.’ 
    In fact, in my case, I asked for it and
    indicated that I would be willing to be

    I asked for help in finding my next
    professional position.  When the time
    came, I went to each leader in the
    company and wished them well.  I
    asked if I might use them for contacts
    in the future and if I could be of
    assistance to each one of them,
    please let me

    Then, on the day of leaving, I prepared
    and circulated an upbeat professional
    message that shared feelings that
    co-workers would sense was a
    ‘necessary decision, not personal,
    a numbers-based decision…  Let me
    know if I could help them in any way. 
    A professional exit is very important.

    Q. How important are references to
    the person doing the hiring?

    A. “It can be the critical deciding
    factor among similarly impressive
    candidates,” Fisher says. All the
    more reason to put effort into choosing
    them, and in preparing them for a call
    that might just help decide your future.

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