I'm currently entering my senior year of college and am beginning to apply for full time positions after graduation.

For the past 1.5 years I've worked part time during the school year and full time during the summers for a mid-large size firm. One of the supervisors who I worked closely with wrote my a one page letter of reference at my request. This supervisor used to be a high up department head for a major government regulatory agency (he has a Wikipedia page and is extremely well known by those within the industry). The reference letter he wrote me is extremely positive and highlights much of the specific work we have done together over the past 1.5 years. It's about a page long.

I obviously want to highlight that relationship and present future employers with the letter as I feel that it would certainly help me in my application. The issue that i'm having is that the majority of applications don't ask for a reference letter. Should I send this reference letter to employers even if it has not been asked for?

For example I am actually applying to work in the government agency he used to head. Obviously I feel that his recommendation would carry a lot of weight but the application for that position doesn't ask for a reference letter and doesn't seem to expect it. How can I include the letter in these types of applications or should I simply leave it out unless asked?

I've already highlighted that we had a close working relationship in my resume and talked about some of the work we did together but would like to showcase his perspective if possible.

  • I would probably say something like: "Worked closely with Hon. John Smith during my 18 months of full-time employment at XYZ. Pleased to have received a personal recommendation letter from Hon. Smith which I attach." How's that?
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


Most job applications in industry (rather than academia) do not use reference letters at all. I would never attach a reference letter unless asked for one specifically. However, most jobs do ask for references, which is a list of people (around 3) that they can contact to ask about you. This list should most certainly include your supervisor, as well as a couple others who know you (professor, adviser, manager, etc). I would usually recommend waiting to give an interviewer a reference list until they ask for it, which they may not even do.

You say that you've already highlighted your relationship with your supervisor in your resume, which is an okay place to put it. Usually though a resume should focus on your own skills and accomplishments and less on the people you know. An even better place to talk about your work with this person is in your cover letter. This way you can highlight exactly what you learned from him and how that affects your career goals. This is especially true when applying to your supervisor's agency. You can explain that he is the reason you became interested in applying for the job.

So to summarize, you probably won't need the reference letter itself, but he is certainly still a good person to have as a reference.

  • Everything said here is true, but it does seem like an unusual situation.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 20:51

Based on your statement "I am actually applying to work in the government agency he used to head. " , Most companies have a way for employees to refer external candidates. Your supervisor can possibly refer you to the job, then you dont need to provide a letter and that explains it all to the Company as well.

Also in this specific scenario, there is no problem in providing your reference letter up front with your CV and cover letter as the supervisor will not a stranger to the Company. So it will only help your case. They might even verify with him and in return you might end up getting more words of praise from him (this time personally).

In general circumstances, as @David said, normally you would just put names in your CV and then they are contacted when necessary.

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