A reference list shares a list of contacts able to speak to various aspects of your academic and
professional experience. Reference lists are an essential part of your application, separate
from your resume and cover letter. It is important to maintain strong communication with everyone so they are able to provide you with the best possible references.

Step 1

Build professional relationships with your professors in advance and keep them updated on your projects.

Step 2

Identify up to five people who could provide a good reference. Make sure to have their professional contact information, title, and their relationship with you.

  • This should be a diverse list of people who know you from different projects, jobs, and industries (if possible). All should be able to speak to your character and quality work, and are trustworthy and know you well. Think of people you’re currently working with and people from previous roles.
  • Whom to ask:
    • Professional references:
      • Direct managers, supervisors, and bosses
      • Other managers and leaders at your company
      • Coworkers on your team and in other departments
      • Direct reports, clients
      • Managers and leaders at organizations you’ve volunteered for
      • College professors
        • When to ask:
          • Related to your career path
          • Who can speak to a skill
          • With industry connections
          • Worked with them on research or a project
      • Business partners
      • Academic advisors
    • Personal references:
      • Mentors
      • People you know from networking or professional membership groups
      • Leaders of social clubs, hobby groups, or community service activities
      • Coaches or instructors from extracurricular activities
      • Faith leaders (such as a pastor or priest) who can speak to your job-related skills
      • Friends who have worked with you on a project or assignment

Step 3

If you’re applying for positions in which you have to provide references as part of the application process: ask the reference before you apply! Before sharing their information with a potential employer, you should always ask someone to be your reference.

Tip: Always frame your request in a way that allows the reference to refuse gracefully—for example, “Would you be comfortable serving as a reference in my upcoming job hunt?” or “Do you have time in the next few weeks to serve as my reference?”

Information to provide the reference after they accept:

  • Quick overview of the company
  • The job description
  • Key job responsibilities highlighting key qualities/characteristics
  • An itemized list of your skills that are relevant to the role with examples of your experience and how it qualifies you based on job functions and your qualities or characteristics
  • Your resume for additional context

Step 4

After the reference call: Send a thank you email and a token of appreciation (gift card to a local coffee shop or thank you card).

A Reference Check or Letter of Recommendation is often a phone call or letter in which the employer will ask about your:

  • Professional strengths;
  • Contributions that are memorable;
  • Reliability in terms of work habits and attendance;
  • Ability to get along with people without sacrificing the ability to make tough decisions and get things done;
  • Domain knowledge that allows you to be successful without having to be trained a lot.

Tips for asking for a Letter of Recommendation:

  • Ask professors for reference letters now to keep for a few years.
  • Ask professors who know you best now and have your work at the top of their mind.
  • If your employer is seeking a letter of recommendation, come to the Career Development Center.


  • Create a reference sheet to have ready for when a potential employer asks and include the following information: Name, Current Job/Position, Company, Phone Number, Email Address, and a Reference Description: Write one sentence explaining how you know or have worked with this person, where, when, and for how long. 


  • Add reference names and contact information on your resume or cover letter.
  • Add “references upon request” on your resume or cover letter.

Reference List Sample

Your Name
Phone Number • first_last [at] emerson.edu

Dr. Kent Matheson
Professor of Film
Emerson College
120 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
kent_matheson [at] emerson.edu

Mathieu Kard, MFA
Faculty Advisor
Emerson Runners Club
120 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02116
matthew_kard [at] emerson.edu

Anne Britten
Producer - Internship Supervisor
Shippensburg Films
216 Old Main Drive
Shippensburg, PA 17257
anne [at] shippensburgfilms.com

Jeri Garfield
Manager - Former Supervisor
Dorchester Cabinetry
1901 Nunnery Lane
Dorchester, MA 02121
jgarfield [at] dorcab.com

For guidance and more personalized questions, contact your career advisor.