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I was recently asked by several students and colleagues about a blog I posted last October about reasons why I won’t be a reference. Since that time I have been a reference for about 50 students for everything from law school admissions, to scholarships, to internships, to Master’s programs, to awards. As you can see, I have a lot of students whom I will gladly be a reference for as they:

  1. Received above average grades in my class;
  2. Were professional;
  3. Had a relationship with me where I knew them by face/name; and
  4. Had a skill set that reflected well on me, my department and my school.

However, in the past year I have maybe heard from a handful of those 50 students. So today I am posting about what I call, “After the Reference” etiquette.

Say “thank you” by referring professors back

Most professors have these wonderful things called tenure files that we are expected to fill with items about our teaching, research and service. Thank you notes from students regarding how we helped them get an award, scholarship, internship, job, etc. help our case for tenure. It shows that we were active in helping them achieve their goals. In essence, we recommended you now you should recommend us.


Photo courtesy of creative commons, flickr.

Let your references know what happened

The referred-referee relationship doesn’t end after I write you a letter or talk to someone on the phone. Like I said, of the 50 students I have written recommendations for I have heard back from about five. That means I have no idea if the other 45 won the award, got the scholarship, entered into a Master’s program, earned a job, etc. For all I know those 45 students could be camped out on their parents’ couches, watching MTV and eating junk food all day. I’d like to think that because they were such good students this is not the case — but that means they need to let me know what they are up to.

Why should you let us know? Professors like to brag about their students. We like to tell others about how wonderful you are. We like to know if you are still searching so we can have you at the front of our minds when we hear about cool job openings. Sometimes we need to know what skills of yours we should be talking about (especially if you are applying for different types of positions). We also like to know if our recommendation helped you (it helps us know what to write in the future).

Stay in touch with your references

You move, I move, everyone moves. Failing to stay in touch with your references means that when you need them they may no longer be there for you. For example, say you get a job after graduation and it just isn’t the right one for you. There is no one at your current position who you want as a reference for a new “cooler” job you are applying for. You want to go back and use the same references you had prior to your job. Problem is, you didn’t stay in touch with them. They have no idea where you are, what you have been doing, etc. Since you haven’t been in touch they may not even remember you (it happens, after all professors have to learn about 100 new names/faces each semester). So what are you going to do about references now?

Photo courtesy of creative commons, wikimedia.

Photo courtesy of creative commons, wikimedia.

This is probably the most important of the three tips — stay in touch with your references. Tips on how to stay in touch include Facebook, Twitter and email. I even have former students who send me Christmas cards (love those). You never know when you will need your references again, by staying in touch with them you will have easy access to them.

One last thing — References always matter

Finally, there is this myth out there that once you are hired your references no longer matter. This post discusses just one reason why that isn’t true (probation periods). Another is that whatever job you are going into — it’s a small world. Someone you know, knows someone you used to know, knows someone who is your reference. If you haven’t kept in touch with a reference that person may no longer be “promoting” you. As Dr. Danny Shipka always said, “it’s about stewardship.”