The references you list on your application or resume are truly the people who will represent you to a scholarship committee, college admissions officer or potential employer. Whether it is a phone call or email, they will be the ones recommending you and answering the tough questions about your character and involvement. Finding the references that will make you shine is an essential step when preparing your applications.

Step 1: Find the right reference

Try to imagine who could answer these questions honestly and positively for you:

  • How is their work ethic?
  • Are they reliable?
  • Do they work well with others?
  • What are their strengths/weaknesses?

All of these and more could be asked of your reference. Most likely, a few individuals came into your mind who could respond to those questions with a focused, positive, and honest answer. If that individual also knows your character very well then you are good to go and should ask them to provide a recommendation.

How many references should I have?

In general, you should have three to four references, but it’s always good to have a backup list. Also keep in mind that you might want different references depending on the recommendation you are seeking. For instance, if you are applying for a community service focused scholarship, you might want to ask one of your volunteer coordinators. If you are applying for a job that requires strong analytical skills, you might want to ask your math teacher.

Keep in mind: if you want the application reviewer to call a specific individual, put that reference down first. Meaning, put your strongest references at the top because they will typically work from the top down.

Step 2: Ask

You MUST MUST MUST ask your potential reference for their recommendation in advance!

This is an essential step to finding references. Too often, references will be listed without their knowledge or consent and only become aware when they receive an email or phone call in regards to being written down as a reference. You don’t want to catch them off guard if you want them to give you a glowing recommendation.

How to ask your potential reference to be your reference.

You can request a reference in a variety of ways.

  1. First, you can send an email and include the request. Be sure to let them know what you are applying for and confirm the best contact information for you to list. This allows them to respond when and if they have time.
  2. Next, you can ask in person. If you see the individual on a regular basis and you have a strong relationship with them, asking them in person and confirming their contact information is a quick way to add a reference.
  3. Finally, some applications will have a special form they want references to fill out. In this case, still ask your reference for permission in advance, then after submitting their information, let them know that they may be receiving a form to complete.

You can request your references in a variety of ways but it is always essential that you ask before writing an individual’s name down.

Bonus Tip: ALWAYS thank you references in advance AND after they provide the reference.

Overall, finding references may seem like a daunting task, but in reality, they are here to recommend you and support you in your future goals. Make sure you choose a reference who knows you well and always ask their permission first. Following these steps is essential to getting a glowing recommendation.

Looking for more tips? Check out our blog all about how to get a great letter of recommendation!