Acquiring Reference Letters

Ref Letter

Getting your hands on solid reference letters can be one of the most challenging aspects of the application process to navigate. Nevertheless, it remains an indispensable element of any application. The prospect of acquiring references can be so daunting, it’s often difficult to know where to begin. In my own experience, I’ve questioned everything from how many references I should list, to who I should ask, what qualifies as a legitimate reference, will so-and-so agree to be my reference, what if their letter is negative and so on and so forth. As time progressed and I began submitting more and more applications of various types, I’ve grown to appreciate the art of acquiring references. Along the way, I received tons of advice from friends and peers as well as having learned a thing or two on my own. The time has come for me to pay it forward and share the knowledge I’ve accumulated with you all.

First thing’s first, the cardinal rule of enlisting referees is to avoid the use family members. As family members are obviously very partial to you, they’re not exactly the most credible of sources. Needless to say, using your parents as a reference from your babysitting days isn’t likely to be taken seriously. But even if you worked part time for your mother, uncle or second cousin thrice removed, I still wouldn’t recommend listing them as a reference. To be frank, people generally don’t appreciate nepotism.

Next, it’s important to consider your audience. That is, the type of reference you should seek out will likely vary based on the nature of the application. For instance, the references you list for a summer job at McDonald’s will likely differ from those you use in your application to grad school. In fact, many postgraduate programs will specifically request academic references, someone who can speak to the quality of your work and your ability to think critically.

This next one pertains a bit more to listed references, say on your CV, rather than acquiring more detailed reference letters. If you’re not sure if a particular individual would feel comfortable or confident in referring you, it’s best just to ask. It’s always nice to let referees know you’ve listed them as a reference anyway, just so they’re not completely blindsided when someone contacts them asking about you.

Last but not least, don’t overlook the importance of timing and logistics and try to plan in advance. If you want someone to write you a thoughtful and well-crafted recommendation, the least you can do is give him or her ample time to do so, especially if there’s a strict deadline you have to meet. The last thing you want to do is pressure or burden the individual you’re hoping will speak highly of you.

Hopefully I was able to provide some insight on the process of obtaining reference letters, I’m sure you’d all come highly recommended!

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