References and Reference Letters

Reference letters often accompany a CV or job interview.

Who should it be?

Your reference should be someone who will write a positive letter for you. This could be a program director, attending physician, or anyone else that you work with closely at your organization. You want to make sure that this person knows what you do on a day to day basis and knows more about you than you work with them on rounds. If you are a practicing physician at multiple locations, try to pick someone at each location to write you a reference letter.

How do I know who to pick?

Screen your candidates! Just because someone is supposed to write a letter of recommendation for you, it does not mean that they will write the best. Find out who your best promoters will be by screening those that you are asking to write you a letter. Ask questions like:

  • Ask if they would be willing to be a reference or write you a letter
  • How would you describe me to others?
  • Would you be willing to give an example of my skills?
  • Ask if they have the time to write you a letter, or to be contacted by a potential employer

You should also think about how that person would describe you. If you are applying for a role that depends heavily on being a team player, ask yourself if your reference(s) would be able to describe that for you.

Will my reference(s) know what to put in their letter?

Reference letters are meant to help give a potential employer strong examples of why they should hire you. You may be worried about your reference not knowing what they should write about you, but you can coach your reference on what they should focus on. Once again, if you know your potential employer is looking for a specific skill or trait, let your reference know. You should also give your reference some information on the opportunity that you are applying to, so they can write directly to that opportunity. If you are still nervous about what your reference wrote, screen the letter before you send it out. If there are any issues, misspellings, or information missing reach out to your reference and ask if they can adjust the letter. DO NOT MAKE ANY CHANGES TO A LETTER WITHOUT GETTING PERMISSION FROM YOUR REFERENCE FIRST.

Can I use a past reference?

Using a past reference like an employer, coworker, or program director is fine, but just like before you need to ask their permission before listing them as a reference. If you have not talked to or worked with the individual recently they may no longer feel comfortable being a reference for you. If they are no longer willing or unable, reach out to different potential references.

How do I list out my references?

  • List three to six references and mark as "confidential" if requested by your reference
  • Include the title, name, medical organization, and the nature of the reference, e.g., personal or professional
  • Always contact personal references and request their preferred mode of contact. List only that method

Important Reference and Reference Letter Reminders

  • Ask references before listing them on a CV or any other document
  • Screen candidates before asking them to be a reference
  • Only list out preferred contact method(s)
  • Give your reference information about the opportunity
  • Be ready to answer questions your reference may have
  • Let your reference(s) know when they may be contacted by the employer

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