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Communicating with References

posted Mar 10, 2015, 4:55 PM by Brian Hall   [ updated Mar 10, 2015, 4:55 PM ]

The nature of my work means I am often in the position of being a reference for students and colleagues. Students need references for internship positions, study abroad programs, full-time work, campus advising positions, and so on. However, communicating with references is something that seems to be a lost art. What gives?

I constantly receive automated emails asking to complete reference forms for students, but I rarely get asked by email, phone, or in-person if I am willing to be a reference. More and more, students assume that if they have had me for a class or if I am their academic advisor, that I am willing to be a reference. Such an assumption leads students to put my name on a form without first asking if I am ok with being a reference and authorizing them to put my name on the form. Thus, emails trickle into my Inbox stating that so-and-so student is applying for such-and-such position and requests that I complete the reference form by x-date. You get one guess about what happens to that email if I have not been asked by the student prior to receiving the email. You guessed it: ignored or deleted.

The reasons why such emails are ignored should be obvious so I will not belabor the issue. Rather, let me just make a few points about what being a reference means to me, which will make the why clear.

1. I will not be a reference just because I know you, just because I had you in class, nor just because I am your advisor.

2. I will not be a reference if you add my name to a form without my consent, if I receive non-warned emails, nor if you have not asked.

3. I will be a reference if I know you, if I believe you are well-suited for the position, if I feel comfortable associating my name professionally with yours, if you have asked, and if the outcome of our discussion was affirmative.

4. I will be reference if I have had you in class, if you performed to my expectations, if I feel comfortable associating my name professionally with yours, if you have asked, and if the outcome of our discussion was affirmative.

5. I will be reference if I am your advisor, if you are excelling academically, if I feel comfortable associating my name professionally with yours, if you have asked, and if the outcome of our discussion was affirmative.

See a theme?

I am happy to be a reference for my students who are doing well and communicate with me. I recommend you treat all references with the same courtesy and respect. The result will be truthful recommendations instead of ignored emails.

--Brian