How Many References
This will really depend on the opportunity for which you are applying, but 3 or 4 references is pretty common.
What About Letters of Recommendation
Most employers prefer to speak with your references, but graduate programs and similar academic opportunities are more likely to ask you for letters of recommendation. These days, most letters are “open” meaning that you are able to read the letter, too. However, be aware that some programs, and some faculty, only want “closed” letters – these are letters that are so confidential, you’re not allowed to read them! The thinking is that your reference writer may be more candid about you if they know you won’t be allowed to read the letter. Whatever the case, when you request your letters, make things easy for your reference writers. Checklists, addressed and stamped envelopes, and deadlines can all be helpful. In the case of electronic letters of recommendation, provide your references with detailed instructions for how to log into the necessary site.
When to Ask
You may want to touch base with your references right at the start of your job search to ask them in advance if they would be comfortable acting as a reference. Then, once you’ve been asked to provide references (usually after the interview), contact the reference again and let them know for which specific position it is you’re currently applying.
For letters of recommendation, you should give your reference writers at least TWO MONTHS notice. Keep in mind that many graduate programs, for example, have deadlines closing at the same time, so many faculty can get bogged down with requests to write letters. Your faculty will appreciate you giving them plenty of notice.
What About Character References?
There are few circumstances when character or personal references are sought – most employers or academic programs want to see professional references. However, there are times when a character or personal reference may be requested or may help to make you a stronger candidate. A character or personal reference is someone who has known you for some time and can speak about your character. Some examples of times when these types of references may be sought are when applying for a leadership positions, for certain volunteer opportunities, or for ministry positions.
Create a separate sheet that includes your contact information at the top (using the same header as your resume would make sense) and the list of references. Include names, titles, organization names, and preferred contact information. Usually, you will want to list the references’ email address and a phone number. Ask your reference if he/she would prefer to be contacted at work, at home, or on a mobile device and provide appropriate information your list.
Finally, don’t forget to follow up with your references. Send them a thank you note immediately after they have spoken to your prospective employer or program, or after they have submitted a letter on your behalf. Then follow up with them again as you progress through the application process, especially if you get a job offer or acceptance into the program.
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