I apologize in advance if this is a question with a well-known answer.

I am a student trying to get a job at a big and very important company. In the application (meaning, on the online portal), the company is asking for "2 to 3 reference letters". Do you think this means that they want me to submit 2-3 reference letters along with my application, or simply include the contact information for 2-3 recommenders that could provide a reference letter if asked? I'm definitely unexperienced, but this seems a little bit odd to me; I know in the college application process, there was a very strict policy of not allowing students to see their letters of reference. Does this policy not hold in the professional world?

If it doesn't, how would I go about asking for these letters? Should I simply say something along the lines of "______ wants me to submit letters of reference, would you be willing to provide one and send it to me?"

I would really like this job, and the size of the company makes it unlikely that they will respond to any inquiries about this topic (although I am/will try my best to seek an official answer from them). I'd greatly appreciate any advice or suggestions you may have.

  • FWIW, in my (admittedly limited, UK-based) experience, I've never seen a company ask for reference letters in advance. Maybe contact info, but even that is rare.
    – Kaz
    Dec 4, 2020 at 14:27
  • Are there specific instructions on the online portal as to how to submit these letters? Is there a way to upload them?
    – mcknz
    Dec 4, 2020 at 15:00
  • @mcknz no, there are not. Dec 4, 2020 at 15:38
  • Did you think to just ask them? Clarification with the requesting party is worth more than the arbitrary opinions of people on the internet.
    – rhoonah
    Jun 28, 2023 at 19:23

1 Answer 1


It's ridiculously out of date in 2020, but for some graduate schemes you do still need to submit reference letters. Since you have no work experience as a graduate, it's a way of trying to ensure they don't get absolute crazies or good-for-nothing wasters. (In my experience you still get both, with or without reference letters, but whatever)

It's doubtful that your reference letters will be the difference between a good application and a great application, it's more of a filter for bad applications.

E.g. No references: In the bin, References included: Actually look at the application

My advice would be to get three of the most basic, simple reference letters you can, from professors or tutors that you had at university.

Write the letter for them and send it to them, so all they have to do is sign it and send it back.

Something like:

I can confirm I worked with DataScienceNovice between this date and this date on the "X" project. 

DataSicenceNovice was a valued member of the team and performed their duties to a high standard.


A. Reference

And just attach scans as .PDF files or whatever along with your application, or if there's no facility to do that, email them to the recruitment contact.

Not being able to see your letters of reference is very much an academia thing, not a work thing. In fact not only will you see your letters of reference, but you will probably write them as well.

  • Thank you so much Geoff, this really helped. Actually, I'm applying for an undergrad position, which I guess makes this even a little more odd. I take it that this advice still holds? Dec 4, 2020 at 17:47
  • I guess if it's an undergrad position then it's sort of half academia half work. If your references are coming from professors or other members of the faculty of the same university where you're applying to, then they should probably be a bit more comprehensive than I've written. But the point stands, the letter just needs to be a basic "yep, I know them, yep they worked for me" and not much more. Dec 16, 2020 at 16:24

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