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Inside Academic References

Inside Academic References

We are sitting in front of our computer, pen in hand and a checklist, a notebook, legal documents, licenses, etc. The ball is on our court now. It depends on us what to write, how, when, where, to whom. We start checking boxes, cover letter, resume, CV, statement, etc. However, at some point, we reach a box that does not depend entirely on us. References. And we wonder where to start, who to ask.

So, it is now when we need to produce another checklist.

Who should I ask?

Let us consider different scenarios:

  1. You are a grad student and have developed a connection with one or more professors. They have noticed how you outstand. They know who you are. Then, you will find them quite easily. You can go in person or merely pick up the phone.
  2. You are the average grad student who was not particularly special in any class. So, professors will barely remember you. Then, it will be harder to find the right one to write about you.  Think of those professors with whom you took more than one class or took a class more recently. You may also think of someone with whom you shared some special occasion, such as some fundraising, meeting, etc. Then, you need to go in person, help him/her remember you and honestly tell him/her what you need.
  3. You are planning to move on professionally. A professional recommendation from your previous employer would be ideal. However, failing to do that, a former boss, supervisor, even colleagues, any person who knows you enough to give a positive testimony of your work and skills, will suffice.
  4. You have done volunteer work. People working with you in this setting, know how you work if you are reliable, dependable if you show communication skills, enthusiasm, flexibility, dedication. These are essential characteristics needed in a teaching context. They might have a different approach to your personality that might help with a character reference as a complement to other professional references.           

Will my former employer/ professor give me a reference letter?                

            Going back to the scenarios above:

  1. If the professors know you and have some kind of connection with you, they will be more than willing to write a good piece about you.
  2. If you need to work harder with a professor that barely knows you, then you need to allow yourself plenty of time to approach him/her probably more than once and be more than polite. You will also need to be very specific about your needs to make his writing task more manageable. Relax. Of course, a professor may say no, but in general, they will show a positive predisposition.
  3. Many times, former employers are not willing to give written references or even talk on the phone. When they do, even a general reference letter to keep under the sleeve might help. What is important is to leave a good impression and to maintain contact with as many people as you can when you change jobs. In this way, if you need something in the future, you will know where to start.
  4. If you teamed up well and got the job done, you will not face any difficulty in getting a strong recommendation.

How can I contact them?

Make a reference network/list of references: Name, position, institution, social networks, contact numbers, and e-mail. Keep notes about them, too. 

They also need to know if you mention them to your potential employer. So, be sure to tell them they might get a phone call.

Is it advisable to tell them what I need in detail?

Yes. What is more, your references will appreciate clarity and your being concise. 

For example, 

  • What job or academic program you are applying for and where.
  • When the reference is due.
  • Who they should address the recommendation.
  • How they need to provide the reference, via e-mail, or when your prospective employer contacts them, etc.

You may also want to guide them for a tailored reference. 

  • Provide them with the list of job requirements, updated CV, personal/academic statement, etc.
  • Include details you would like to see mentioned related to the job posting.

Your potential employer will notice that this reference is addressed to them only so that it will have a more substantial impact.

Can I ask for a last-minute reference?

Of course, you can. The question to answer is whether you will get the reference you are expecting if you get a reference at all. Your contact may be out of town, with an unusual workload, or merely not willing to write in a rush. Even if they do it, they may not produce something compelling.

So, tell them as much in advance as you can and help them write a good letter by providing them with information, materials, ideas.

Should I call my contacts to thank them?

Definitely. And a thank you note is always welcome, too. References are usually interested in the outcome and will be highly pleased to be part of your career advancement.