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. (more…)