Letters of Recommendation
Many hiring decisions in competitive situations will come down to who has the better professional recommendations. When cover letters, resumes and interviews all add up to a tie vote – many committees will make their choice based on what others have had to say about their experiences working with you.
Many job postings request at least three letters of recommendation. Carefully consider whom you will ask to recommend you. All of your recommenders should know you and some element of your work fairly well. When asking someone to serve as a recommender, phrase your request so that the individual may decline if she does not feel comfortable recommending you either because they do not know you well enough or do not feel the quality of your work merits a strong recommendation. You might say "I'd like for you to serve as a reference on my behalf. Do you feel you know me and my work well enough to serve as a positive reference?" There are very few things that will sink your job prospects faster than a negative (or even lukewarm) recommendation.
While you probably wish to ask your recommender in person, you should also follow up with a written letter or e-mail message confirming his or her willingness to serve as a reference. Supply your references with a recent copy of your resume, cover letter, and any other materials that might help them comment positively on your work, such as a writing sample. This will allow them to potentially comment on your suitability for particular positions. Keep your recommenders apprised of the positions for which you are applying.
On occasion, hiring groups may not ask for written recommendations, but will choose to speak with references directly. Again, the suggestions are pretty much the same. Make sure you’ve chosen wisely and make sure your references will be able or available to make contact with your hiring group. A reference who is traveling around Europe for the month you’re interviewing is probably going to be problematic.