References and Recommendations


A reference is someone who has agreed to give you a positive recommendation for a particular job or program, based on his or her knowledge of your work, character, and/or abilities. Your references should be people you have worked with or for and who know you and your work habits reasonably well.

Good choices for references include current or former supervisors and/or colleagues, academic or faculty advisers, leaders of organizations where you volunteer, and professors or instructors with whom you have had significant interaction. Always ask for permission before using someone as a reference. Do not ask family members, friends, roommates, or significant others to be references. They cannot provide an impartial assessment of your strengths and weaknesses. 

Prepare a list of at least three references, including each person's name, professional title, phone number, email address, and current or former relationship to you (e.g., "Supervisor, ABC Company"), to have available for employers who request it. If you are looking for an academic position, one of your references should be your thesis adviser and you should provide additional faculty references.

Provide each of your references with:

  • A detailed description of the job or program you are applying for
  • A copy of your résumé or CV
  • A copy of your Penn State transcript (if applicable)
  • Information about any specific accomplishments or personal qualities that you would like emphasized in a discussion with a prospective employer


Recommendations may be either verbal (in response to a phone check by an employer) or written (as a letter of recommendation). Verbal recommendations are more common for industry jobs, while letters or recommendation are more common for academic jobs, graduate school, or fellowships.

If you need verbal recommendations, get in touch with your references as soon as you have scheduled an interview and let them know they might be receiving a phone call from a particular employer or organization within a couple of weeks.

If you need written recommendation letters, request them from your references at least 3–4 weeks in advance of the date they are due, if possible. Be clear about the timeframe in which you need them to be completed and the method by which they should be returned to employers or organizations. If your recommendation letters need to be mailed, provide your references with stamped envelopes, pre-addressed to the recipient and including your return address.

Keep your references informed about the progress of your job search and send each of them a thank-you message for their efforts.


Engineering Career Resources & Employer Relations

College of Engineering

117 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4710

Phone: 814-863-1032