So you want a reference?

Image credit: Unsplash

The end of the academic year is an exciting time! As a teaching academic, I get quite a few requests for references from current and former students (quite rightly too!).

I teach over 200 different students each year and get to know only a proportion of these well enough to give a detailed reference.

What should you think about when asking me to be a referee?

Do I know you well enough to be a referee? When potential employers phone to ask for a reference, they don’t have a special category for ’lecturer’ so I am expected to respond to all the questions they ask a previous employer.

I need to be able to answer questions about you, your skills, your ability to work independently and in teams, and your work ethic. The employers may also have other more directed questions too.

I can only answer what I know/have experienced. Otherwise, I will have to say I don’t know. A few “sorry, I don’t know” answers are fine but if that’s all I can say - am I really the best reference for you to showcase your ability to your potential employer?

Other than mentioning your grades, what can I say? Depending on the courses you’ve taken with me, I can comment on whether you turned up to class, asked relevant questions, whether you paid attention, handed in your assignments on time, turned up to meetings with me on time and contributed appropriately. Did you do a group project (team work) or present to the class (communication skills)? These are normally key skills employers are interested in.

Were there any disagreements with other classmates or issues with the university regulations? For example, did you try to resolve team difficulties with your team mates or did the issues go unresolved? In giving a reference, you are relying on my professional reputation with different industry organisations. Its important for me to be as honest as possible as future students also need jobs!

How can you make it easier for me (and improve your reference too!)?

Send me your CV and job advert in the same email as the request for a reference. This means I have all the relevant information in one place when potential employers phone. Employers are interested in my opinion as to whether you can do the job you applied for - so specifics about the job itself are as useful as your CV. And if I can’t easily locate both of these things during a 15 minute conversation, wonderful things about you might not get said!

I realise this will mean I might have lots of emails from you (as you apply for lots of jobs) but all the relevant information is in the same place so I can spend more time giving you a good reference (and know that you can follow instructions!).

Its also really good to include a photo too! There’s lots of students asking for references so make sure I don’t mistakenly confuse you with the slacker in the class or I might not remember your name but when I see a photo realize you were the one asking relevant and insightful questions in class!

So remember…

When you ask me for a reference please send a single email with both your CV and the job advert in the same email. When it counts, I have all the relevant information at my fingertips!

SpatialThink Lab
SpatialThink Lab
Mairéad de Róiste’s Research Lab

The SpatialThink Lab researches cartography, geovisualization, spatial thinking, usability, & virtual reality.