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The Riley Guide

The Riley Guide: Resumes & Cover Letters

References & Recommendations

Experience and skills may catch an employer's eye, but solid references and recommendations are what really seal the deal. Even for entry-level jobs, most employers will at least check out your references - according to the 2004 Reference and Background Checking Survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 96% of all organizations conduct some kind of background or reference check on prospective hires. And for higher-level positions - a particularly glowing recommendation may be all that distinguishes you from the competition.

But who should you choose for your references and recommendations? How much should you prepare them? What should you ask them to say about you? Read on to find out these answers to these questions, as well as a lot more about the process of working with references and recommendations.

References vs. Recommendations: What's the Difference?

The difference basically boils down to this: References tend to cover the basics, while recommendations tend to be much more in-depth. You'll need at least one reference for just about any job application you submit - and many employers require three. On the other hand, you're less likely to need a recommendation for a job application - unless the position is very high-ranking or otherwise unusual - but you'll use recommendations when applying for many academic programs, particularly at the graduate and postgraduate levels.

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References fall into three main categories: