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Letters of Recommendation and References

As a faculty or staff member, you have a critical role in assisting graduating undergraduate and graduate students with obtaining a job upon graduation. You may be contacted by prospective employers as a reference, or may be asked to write a letter of reference for a student. The term reference usually applies to a job search while letters of recommendations are formal letters (either hard or soft copy) written to support a candidate for graduate school or a research/teaching position.

When you are approached by a student or alum to serve as one of their references or to write a letter of recommendation, first assess if you (1) have the time to do so, and (2) if you can speak positively and confidently about this requester; it will be better for both parties if you are upfront about what you can and cannot do in this situation. Once you have agreed, be sure to ask for input and expectations on how you should approach the letter or reference check. If the requester doesn’t volunteer the following information, feel free to ask them for:

  • Recommendation forms/information about position or graduate program
  • Their resume or CV
  • Updates on their accomplishments
  • Any other information that will helpful for you!

After you have gathered the necessary information, and determined a deadline, it’s time to write it. The goal of a letter of recommendation is to provide an overall assessment of the requester’s potential to excel in a new position. Thus, your letter should focus on the characteristics and achievements that are directly relevant to their job performance or performance in the classroom for graduate school recommendations. Some traits that should be considered for discussion in a letter include: past job/task performances, experience and expertise, intellectual ability, and personal attributes as they pertain to leadership quality, team building, perseverance, and communication skills.:

Managing Letters of Recommendation

Interfolio, the premier online credentials management service, gives students and alumni the ability to manage letters of recommendation and other credentials online. Interfolio does not just benefit students and alumni, it also helps ease the burden of those faculty entrusted with composing letters of recommendation. You can learn more about Interfolio and create an account.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

There are both legal and ethical issues involved in providing references for job candidates. If you have any questions surrounding this area, please refer to the Faculty Guide to Ethical and Legal Standards in Student Hiring from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.