Do You Need a Reference or a Recommendation? Here’s How to Tell

Career Blog

Published: February 15, 2022 by Jillian Collins

Whether you’re applying for a job or an internship, it’s great to have good references, e.g., people who have seen your work (and how you work) and can confirm that you have what it takes to do the job. Same with recommendations. But how do references/recommendations work these days, and what process should you follow when requesting one? We’ve got you covered!

References Versus Recommendations

The first thing to understand is the difference between a reference and a recommendation. In the job world, the differences are generally:

  1. How a reference/recommendation is used during the job-seeking process.
  2. What you are asking that person who’s “seen your work” and thinks you’re terrific to do on your behalf.

The result is having people vouch for you. But to do that, you must be clear on the intent – and helping them with that, helps you succeed.


Checking references is usually one of the final steps in an interview process. That means the hiring manager or project leader wants some brief testimonials that “back your claims” when you apply. Or, in some cases, after you interview.

When applying for a job, you don’t need to mention anything about references (including the old-school “references available upon request”) on your résumé or application. It’s assumed that you’ll be able to provide references if asked. Plus, you do not want to waste valuable résumé space. That résumé real estate is reserved for you. More room for statements about your killer work experience or professional strengths!


Recommendations are more in depth. The hiring manager or project leader asking for a recommendation is investing big-time in more glowing praise about you.

Recommendations should be considered social praise, as well as professional accolades. Think of a recommendation from the perspective of a potential employer:

  • Is this person visible?
  • Can they provide proof upon request, instead of making me reach out to someone first?
  • Will we interview them based on the recommendation from a colleague?

In a nutshell, the recommendation process is one to focus on. It requires legwork on your end to get recommendations, have them ready (on the official letterhead) to present in an interview, and preemptive connections to help you out.

As always – remember to “pay it forward” when someone goes to bat for you. Celebrate your success and celebrate the success of others!

What to Expect Next

This was just the introduction folks! There are nuances and approaches to recommendations and references. And, how you ask is what you shall receive. Stay tuned for reference protocol, recommendation types and etiquette.

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