List of References vs Letter of Reference: What’s the difference?

A list of references or a letter of reference (also called a letter of recommendation) is often a necessary component of your job search or your application to an academic program. While one is a list of the contact information of carefully selected references and the other is a formal written letter, they both serve as important pieces of the application process.

What is a list of references?

A list of references is an organized document listing the names and contact information of people who have agreed to attest to the skills, abilities, and character of the person being recommended. Essentially you are sharing the phone number and email address of strategically selected references who have agreed to speak about your credibility and qualifications. Your potential employers will contact your listed references to ask questions about the level of your skills and expertise, your character, work ethic, strengths and weaknesses, and so on. This list of references is important to help employers determine whether you’re a good fit for the role and provides the employer insight about you as a candidate above and beyond what is presented on your resume.

What is a letter of reference (often called a letter of recommendation)?

A letter of reference/recommendation is a formal letter in which the writer speaks to the skills, abilities, and character of the person being recommended. Essentially your thoughtfully selected reference writes a letter in support of your credibility and qualifications as it relates to the graduate school program, fellowship, scholarship, or opportunity that you are applying for. A letter of reference is a tremendous addition to your application as it explains that regardless of the grades on your transcript and beyond the experiences listed on your resume that you have the character traits and abilities needed to succeed in the program or role that you’re applying for.

Who should you ask to be a reference?

The best candidates to consider asking to write you a letter of reference/recommendation or to be included on your reference list are people that have favorable insight into your work habits, skills, and abilities. Consider asking a current or previous professor, your club advisor, athletic coach, or previous employer, anyone who has first-hand knowledge of your strengths and can recommend you for the opportunity you’re applying for. References can be the determining factor between you and another candidate so spending the time to select people who know you well and you have confidence will have good things to say about you is an important aspect of the application process.

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By Caitlin Cincotta
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