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The majority of employers will ask for just the names of references that they will contact prior to making you an offer. Typically they will ask for three references. You should always ask permission of persons serving as your references before providing their name and contact information to an employer.
Employers want references who can attest to you as an employee, so current or previous supervisors/employers are best. However, it's perfectly acceptable to use references other than your past employers. Crew supervisors, professors, academic advisors, internship and service supervisors can all make good references. Be prepared with a list of references complete with:
Reference name and title
Organization they work for
Address (street, city, state, zip)
A brief statement telling how they know you
Graduate and professional schools and some types of employers, particularly in areas of education or research, will request letters of recommendation. Typically, you will request letters of recommendation from faculty for graduate and professional school and from a combination of faculty and previous employers/supervisors for employment. Three letters of recommendation is standard. In general, the following guidelines apply:
Have at least three people who can speak on your behalf. Faculty are the best references for graduate schools. Faculty with whom you have studied and supervisors from present and previous employment are the best references to use if you are seeking employment. Do not use any personal references, i.e., friends.
Ask only those individuals who know you well enough to write a meaningful reference. The materials you give your letter writers should help them write letters that are personalized as well as customized to the field and programs you have chosen. Include a copy of your statement of purpose (give them a rough draft if that's all you have), a copy of relevant class and employer evaluations, papers you have written for them (with their comments), your resume, and any other product or description of relevant accomplishments. Even provide a brief outline of what points you would like the letter to include.
You can request that letter writers address certain skills or achievements about which they have first-hand knowledge and/or use letters of recommendation to compensate for a weaker part of your application. For instance, let's say you tend to do very poorly on standardized tests so you've received a low verbal score on the GRE's. You have an instructor, however, who has consistently praised your verbal abilities. Make sure you specifically request that s/he address this in his/her letter. Yes, s/he can even acknowledge your trouble with standardized tests. It is wise to put any request like this in writing so the letter writer won't forget. Note that you can't benefit from this if you didn't take the GRE's early enough to have the results already!
Many law schools prefer that you use the LSAC's letter of recommendation service. You should consult with the school regarding which course is best (usually indicated on the application).