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Would it be beneficial to include an academic reference for a job in the industry? What if that reference is a senior like the head of a department or a principal? When I talk about an academic reference,I mean a reference from a university.

EDIT: The reference was my teacher and I was a very good performer.He is the most senior person in our university(Being one of the few 'Professors' ,not lecturer or assistant professor). He has also written a few books which are used in other universities as standard course material.Not mentioning several research publications.

  • What did you do for the reference? If it's a lecture professor you never interacted with vs a senior design professor, big difference. – enderland May 17 '13 at 13:55
  • The reference was my teacher and I was a very good performer.He is the most senior person in our university(Being one of the few 'Professors' ,not lecturer or assistant professor). He has also written a few books which are used in other universities as standard course material.Not mentioning several publications. – zzzzz May 17 '13 at 13:59
  • Following on from what @enderland said, are his works well known outside of educational circles & are there possibilities that people at the jobs you're applying for would have either studied his work or know of his works? – Michael Grubey May 17 '13 at 14:09
  • @MichaelGrubey I don't think so .That is why I am asking this question. – zzzzz May 17 '13 at 14:19
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In general, the people you select to be your references should be those people who are best equipped to talk about you and your work, work ethic, personality, competencies, and other qualities that match the position or position types you are targeting in your job search.

As a hiring manager, I don't care where those references come from; in the specific situation described, of using a professor to be your reference for a position outside of academia, it wouldn't make a difference to me as long as the reference is valuable for the reasons I described above.

Plenty of hard working, smart, personable, competent people were great research assistants or teaching assistants for professors and can use that experience in industry an thus the reference is "valid". Similarly, even if you did not work for a professor but he was your major advisor or someone with whom you had several classes and he can honestly speak to the qualities I'm looking for in a professional reference, then that's great!

Here's when the "using a professor as a reference" goes awry -- and this is both for jobs inside academia and in industry as well: if the professor doesn't remember you and can't speak to your skills and expertise and other personal attributes, if you are only using the professor's as a reference to get a foot in the door and have nothing of your own to back up that reference, or if you are still using professors as references after your second, third, or fourth (or more!) job. By that time you should be considering using actual industry references, otherwise a hiring manager is going to wonder what is wrong with your or what went wrong in all of your jobs since school.

As always, different hiring managers are going to have different interpretations of the types of references they value and do not value. As long as you have put some thought into the reference request and your referee can provide a thoughtful and personal reference for and about you, you've covered all the bases.

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References are best when they:

  • Can accurately speak about your work
  • Provide some focus that is relevant to the context of the opportunity
  • Are relatively recent

And academic resource may well fit this criteria - particularly if you're talking about a person who's academic expertise is closely related to your field (ie, you are seeking a software developer position, and this person is a computer science professor), where you've been working together relatively recently and have some depth of experience together. I'd worry less about what the rank of that person is in the academic context. A professor who lead your independant study on a work-like project is going to be way better than a dean who hardly knows you but speaks glowingly of you. Remember, the focus is not what the reference has done, but how articulately he can speak about what you've done and what you are capable of.

Figure that many references do have a shelf life. Coming fresh out of school, most folks have a significant number of references from academia. After a few years of working, references provided on the job are both more relevant and more recent.

So it changes over time.

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It's perfectly fine to use an academic reference if that's all you have. You want references who can talk about what you've been up to recently, so if you're making the transition from being a student to being part of industry, academic references make sense. As you build up professional experience, you'll also have more "recent" references and you'll want to sunset your use of the one from academia.

Having an old academic reference can be a useful thing if you're applying for something related to what you did in college. As jcmeloni's answer points out, you do need to make sure your reference remembers you and can talk cogently about your performance.

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