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Career Development Center

Reference Guidelines

Help Create a Student’s Success

When students begin seeking employment or admittance into graduate programs, they often ask faculty and staff to provide references for them. You may be asked to serve as an academic, employment, or character reference—or all three. To help you provide the best possible reference, we’ve created helpful guidelines.

Written References

  • Provide a written reference only if a student has given your name for one.
  • Be factual; do not editorialize; avoid vague statements.
  • Respond to the specific inquiry about the student or job applicant; direct the response to the particular person who requested the information.
  • If a “to whom it may concern” reference letter is requested, document that this is the type of reference requested and that the student or job applicant takes responsibility for disseminating the letter to the proper persons.
  • Relate references to the specific position for which the person applied and the work that the applicant will perform.
  • A good practice is to avoid giving personal opinions or feelings; if subjective statements or opinions are requested, clearly identify them as opinions and not as facts, and explain how you came to that opinion.
  • Be able to document all information that you release.
  • State in the reference letter, “This information is confidential, should be treated as such, and is provided at the request of [name of student or applicant], who has asked me to serve as a reference.” Statements such as this give justification for the communication and leave no doubt that the information was not given to hurt a person’s reputation.
  • Do not include information that might indicate the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, disability, citizenship status, sex, gender, or marital status.

Verbal References

  • Do not disclose information regarding a student’s education record without the written consent of the student.
  • Avoid informal lunch discussions or off-the-record telephone conversations with prospective employers regarding a student’s performance unless the student is aware of and has approved such discussions.
  • Information given should be factual, based upon personal knowledge or observation of the student through direct contact with the student.
  • If any employer contacts you and advises that a student has given permission for you to give a verbal reference, verify this with the student before giving any information to the employer; verification can include a copy of the student’s signed employment application listing you as a reference or a verbal confirmation by the student, followed by written confirmation.
  • In addition, those giving verbal references should follow the above Written References guidelines (excluding the first and the fourth).
If you need more guidance on written or verbal references, please contact the Career Development Center at or 260-481-0689.