Who to Ask for References and Letters of Recommendation

As senior level nursing students complete their program of study, the time comes to start to actively seek employment. While gathering the materials needed to draft their resume and make a splash in the real world, many students also start to wonder who to reach out to for references and letters of recommendation.

“For the nursing graduate seeking that first job, I encourage them to get their references and or letters of recommendations from faculty, clinical instructors, employers and or preceptors,” said Donna Cognac, senior career services advisor for Chamberlain College of Nursing. “These individuals can attest to their skills, their work ethic and their professionalism.”

What about friendly staff members who have helped students along the way?

Cognac said that the best practice is to get letters of recommendation from professors who have firsthand experience with students and their capabilities instead.

But don’t discount staff completely. Though not ideal for recommendations and references, it’s always useful to have a broad network of connections. These are individuals you should reach out to via professional networking websites such as LinkedIn. You can find out more about building connections in our 3 Networking Tips for Nurses blog post.

Michelle Mercurio, national manager of career services for Chamberlain, recommends that students work hard to develop a strong set of references while on campus, as it can only help in the job search. She said many students wait too long and ask for references once they leave campus.  “Don’t let that be you. Instead, be ready to hit the job market as soon as you graduate, if not sooner.”

Lastly, Cognac has an article she shares with students to offer them direction on getting references. “I came upon this great article in Lippincott’s 2013 Nursing Career and Education Directory that I encourage students to read: Advice for new grads:  How to get great references from faculty; by Linda S. Smith, DSN, MS, RN, CLNC. This article describes how to ask for and use faculty references for nursing employment.”

Here’s an overview of the topics covered in the piece:

  •         Key information
  •         Where to begin?
  •         Deciding which professor(s) to ask
  •         How to ask for a reference
  •         What to include in your request
  •         Feedback and follow-up


Mercurio's parting advice is to be sure to continue to look for tips you can use as you begin applying for jobs and to remember to always be working to build a strong list of references that will only help you along the way.

What questions do you have about asking for references and letters of recommendation? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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