References and Samples

Writing Samples

Typically, writing samples should be about 3-5 pages in length unless otherwise specified. However, you could probably submit up to 10 pages if you had a longer document that was relevant and impressive. The sample doesn’t have to be directly related to the organization, but should be as similar as possible in terms of approach, topic, tone, philosophy, etc. The employer will look for such aspects as writing style and analytical approach. Some things to consider, if the job or internship entails writing executive summaries or brief memos, you would want a shorter sample or a couple of short pieces that show how you can be concise and yet meaningful with your words. If the position entails in-depth research, you would want a more comprehensive piece. You can submit a part of a larger document, providing context to it either in your cover letter or on a cover sheet attached to the sample. Your thesis can be an excellent writing sample.


ALWAYS ask people if they will be references before providing their names and contact information to an employer. You also want to be clear as to when you are using them for a reference—for a specific job or for your entire job search. Typically, an employer will not ask for references until you are a serious candidate for the job (e.g., after the first round of interviews). However, many internship searches move quickly and might request this up front. Three is the standard number for references. You can also provide four. During and right after graduate school, providing up to two faculty members is fine. A third person could be a supervisor from a past or current job/internship.

When you ask people to be references, give them a copy of your resume and a general description of the internships or jobs you’re seeking. You will help them be a great reference if you keep them abreast of your job search. (This might depend on your relationship with your references.) For example, you are interviewed and asked for your references. Immediately following the interview, contact your references and let them know about the job. Tell them the key skills needed—maybe even highlight some of your accomplishments and skills that are relevant to the job. Make sure they have your latest resume.

Consider having a reference document to provide an employer (see example at end of manual). Use the same header you have on your resume to make it a companion document. Don’t list your relationship with the people. Simply provide each person’s name, current title and organization, address, telephone number, and e-mail. Fax numbers are optional and probably not necessary.

Letters of Recommendation

To get a letter of recommendation that will stand out, provide the person writing your letter with a copy of your resume and possibly a more detailed outline of your activities. If you have a particular job or type of job in mind, it also helps to have a description of some of the key skills required for that job, as the recommender may be unfamiliar with this information. Even better (depending on your relationship with the person writing the letter), you could provide your own perspective on how your experience meets the job/internship requirements. Not only could this help to reinforce your key selling points, but it’s also great preparation for you while writing cover letters and preparing for interviews. If given a choice, you always want to obtain a targeted letter of recommendation, rather than a generic one.

Academic Degrees Punctuation

Under the education section of your resume and whenever writing about it for the first time, spell out your degree, such as Master of Public Policy or Master of Policy Management. The information below is based on the Chicago Manual of Style (14th edition), rule 14.11.

When abbreviating your academic degree, follow these styles:

  • B.A. or Bachelor of Arts
  • M.A. or Master of Arts

The Government Printing Office style manual (2000 edition) states that if you choose to spell out the degree in a sentence, the degree name should be lowercased (see GPO rule 9.36). For example, “John graduated with a bachelor of arts degree.”

The only time you use “’s” is when you don’t specify the discipline of the degree:

  • bachelor’s degree, but bachelor of science degree
  • master’s degree, but master of fine arts degree

For example, “I have a bachelor’s degree and hope to earn my master of arts degree soon.”

Other Resources

Ace your case III: Practice makes perfect (2004). WetFeet.

Basalla, S., & Debelius, M. (2007). So what are you going to do with that? Finding careers outside academia. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Darling, D. (2003). The networking survival guide: Get the success you want by tapping into the people you know. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Fisher, R., Ury, W., & Patton, B. (1991). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York, NY: Penguin Books,.

Ibarra, H. (2004). Working identity: Unconventional strategies for reinventing your career. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Nierenberg, A.R. (2005). Million dollar networking. Herndon, VA: Capital Books, Inc.

Partnership for Public Service. Red white and blue jobs: Finding a great job in the federal government. Washington, DC.

Savino, C.S., & Krannich, R.L. (2007). Military to civilian resumes and cover letters: How to best communicate your strengths to employers. Manassas Park, VA: Impact Publications.

Ury, W. (1993). Getting past no: Negotiating your way from confrontation to cooperation. New York, NY: Bantom Books.

Vault guide to the case interview: Launch your consulting career with winning strategies for your case interview (2007). Vault Career Library.