No matter what reference type you need, follow these steps to get references that will add value to your application packet.
- Why you are asking them: Can they speak to your academic knowledge? Did they serve as your advisor? Did you work in their lab? Why are they the right person to provide you with a reference? If it’s been awhile since you worked with them, a refresher of what you worked on and found meaningful in their course wouldn’t go amiss.
- What specifically you are asking them for: Do you need a letter? Do they need to fill out a form? Will they be getting calls potentially from several companies?
- Helpful information about the opportunities for which you need the reference: What is the opportunity? Why are you interested in it? Why are you qualified for it?
- Anything about yourself that should inform their reference: Do you have experiences they might not know about? What goals do you have that the opportunity may impact?
4. Be timely. I once received a call from a company asking for a personal reference for one of my friends. It was out of the blue. After I got off the phone, I called her to learn she had JUST interviewed with them and she was going to call me when she had a second. Your references should know they may be called well in advance of receiving the call. References should be requested well in advance of any deadlines to give your reference enough time to complete it. A rushed reference will most likely be a bad reference.
5. Go after the best reference. Sometimes, potential references will tell you they are not the right person to write your reference. Listen to them. You don’t want a formulaic or general reference from someone who can’t speak to your ability. If you are picking from a group of references, ensure that each one can speak to different aspects of what makes you a great candidate.