I’m a college student about to graduate and enter the workforce for the first time. I’ve worked a couple jobs around campus, and I did a summer marketing internship at a beach club, but I have no other experience at all.
I’m applying for sales jobs, mostly, but I’d really like to work as a broker or trader. Money is my passion, and I majored in finance.
Who should I ask to be my references? How do I go about asking them? Should I get reference letters too, or just contact information?
Big Money Dreams
Who should I ask to be my references? How do I go about asking them?
Dear Big Money Dreams,
Congratulations on finishing college and joining us in the “real world!” Finding your first real job can be tough, and you’re doing the right thing to think about it before you graduate rather than after.
Have you met with your college’s career center yet? They probably have a list of companies who are hiring new graduates. Talk to your professors, too. They know people in your industry and may be able to make introductions for you. Add your professors to your LinkedIN network, too.
Make sure you have a good support group of fellow graduates. Big companies often hire for many positions at the same time, so you can share leads within your support group and find a job faster. Create a Facebook group for this purpose, and then invite people to it. They’d be fools to turn down this kind of invite!
Now, with that bit of advice out of the way, let’s talk about your references. You should be gathering as many as you can because you are going to be applying to several different kinds of jobs, and like resumes, references should be targeted to the job for which you are applying. Here’s a list of who and how to ask:
Ask Your Previous Managers for References
The best people to write references for you are the managers of your on-campus jobs and internships. Employers usually want to hear from at least one person who has managed you so they can ask questions about your attendance, how well you treat customers, and how you handle difficult situations. They also like to ask whether or not your previous manager would hire you again if they had the chance.
To ask a previous manager for a reference, start with an email. If you haven’t seen them in awhile, start by telling them how much you enjoyed working with them and when. Ask how they are, and tell them that you’re about to graduate and you’re applying to jobs. Then ask if they would mind acting as a reference for you. The email might look something like this:
How are you doing? I really enjoyed working with you last summer during the marketing internship. I learned more in the three months I spent with you at the beach club than I did the first two years of college! It was an amazing experience, and I’m recommending it to incoming freshmen.
As you may remember, I am graduating in a couple of months and I am starting to apply for jobs in the finance industry. Would you mind acting as a reference for me? It would be a big help, and I would truly appreciate it.
In most cases, you don’t need previous managers to write formal recommendation letters for you unless you decide to work in education or a similar industry. Do gather their email address, phone number, and information about where they work now, though. Keep in touch with them as you know employers will be checking your references so they are prepared and watching for the phone call, email, or survey.
Most every employer will want to talk to at least one person who has managed you, so be prepared to include them on most every job application.
Ask Your Professors for References
Remember when we talked about how your professors have contacts in the industry that might help you find a job? They make great references, too. Even better, they write a lot of references, so they won’t mind at all when you ask them.
When it comes to professors, ask them about it in person. Go to their office during office hours and have a candid conversation about the kind of jobs you are seeking. Ask them to make recommendations on places you should apply or people you should meet. Then, ask them if they would mind acting as a reference, and in this case, ask them to write you a reference letter. If you decide to go on to an MBA (from a very good college, or it’s not worth the money) in a couple of years, you will need reference letters from former professors.
Ask Peers for References (the Right Way)
Remember how we talked about the fact that you need a good support group of your fellow graduates so you can chase job leads together? You will have one person in that group land a job first. Once that person is in, he or she becomes your reference. Many big companies offer referral bonuses when an employee recommends someone and they are hired. So, it’s a mutualistic relationship—you get a job, and the other person gets $500-2000 as a bonus for referring you.
Use your support group, LinkedIN, Facebook Messenger, or email to ask for this kind of reference. Go to the company’s website and see the positions for which they’re hiring, and let your peer know you’re interested. After they refer you, use their contact information as one of their references. They should be cool with it since they’re referring you.
Seriously, if you don’t start a graduate support group right now, you are cheating yourself out of one of the most valuable networks you could possibly have.
Don’t Ask Your Mom for a Reference
This should go without saying, but don’t use family as references, especially your mom. Most places won’t even accept this sort of reference, and your application will end up in the trash bin. Don’t ruin your chances because you’re too lazy to ask the right people to act as references.
You Have a Network. You’ve Got This.
Now you have a good pool of people who can act as references for you. You have previous managers (I count at least three from your letter), professors (20 or so in most degree programs), and peers (50+). Go out there and network your way to a fantastic job!
Best of Luck,