Obtaining References for the PE Exam

Why do states ask for references or recommendations from other engineers with whom I have worked?

The purpose of getting references is primarily to verify the length of your work experience and the nature of your work experience (i.e., whether it is engineering or something else). Character, ethics, and morality are not the primary issues, if they are issues at all.

Do all states require the same number of references?

No. However, all states require some--usually 4 to 6.

How many references should I get?

Your state will be very specific about how many references you need. You will need at least one reference from every engagement for which you are claiming as qualifying work experience.

Can I send in more references than my state requests?

Yes. In fact, one or more of your references may fail to complete or send in the recommendation form. So, arranging for one or two extra is always a good idea.

I don't have enough references. Can I send in fewer references than my state requests?

Usually, there is no flexibility in the number of references required. If your state asks for 6, then you should arrange for 6 references. The completeness of your application will be judged at the administrative level, and if you don't have the required number of references, your application will not get any further. So don't send in fewer references than are required.

What qualifications do my references have to meet?

Most states require all (or a majority) of your references be licensed professional engineers. However, the most important issue to the board is whether the reference has specific first- hand knowledge of the length and nature of your work experience. Another important issue is whether your reference is unbiased. Usually references that are related to you by blood or marriage are not accepted. It is not necessary for all of your references to have supervised you directly, although such a relationship is preferred.

What do I do if (a) I don't know enough PEs? (b) I don't know any PEs? (c) I have never worked for a PE?

Many applicants have this problem. Electrical and telecommunication engineers are often hard-pressed to find enough PEs references, but the problem is not restricted to these areas. Each state has had to deal with similar problems hundreds of times and has developed its own policies in this regard. The states won't give you any specifics about these policies, either in writing or verbally, but there is some flexibility. Basically, you just have to do the best you can. Always get the required number of references. Always get references from each qualifying engagement. Beyond that, a reference from any engineer with first-hand knowledge of your work experience seems to satisfy the states. Your first alternative (which is almost always accepted), is to use your engineering supervisors, even if they are not PEs. Next best is any staff engineer with a knowledge of your work history.

Can I use an engineering co-worker as a reference?
Usually, a reference from an engineering co-worker (someone who was level with you on the organization chart) will be accepted.

Can I use references from college professors in school?
College professors usually won't have any direct knowledge of your work experience (duration or nature).

Can I use references from administrative staff or contractors with whom I have worked?
Only engineers can judge engineering work. References from nonengineers usually have no value.

What about references from clergy, friends, and other nonengineers outside of work?
Only engineers can judge engineering work. References from nonengineers usually have no value.

What about references who live or are registered as PEs in other states or other countries?
Your qualifying work experience does not have to be in the state in which you are taking the PE exam.

What if I cannot find my old supervisor because (a) my old company is no longer in existence, (b) my old company is in another country, or (c) my supervisor has retired, moved away, or died?
Unfortunately, it is sometimes impossible to document work experience. You might have some collateral evidence (e.g., publications or project reports) of your work during that time that might get you some experience credit, but this will take one-on-one negotiations with your state board.

What if my references don't speak or write English?
Then you will have to get everything translated. Be sure the original foreign-language document is submitted along with the translation. Ask the board if they have translation standards.

Can all of my references come from the same work engagement?
The references must cover a span of time equal to or exceeding the qualifying period. If you have enough years in one company, all of your references can come from that single company.

Will all of the people from whom I have requested references come through for me?
If you're lucky. But some of your most trustworthy friends, co-workers, and supervisors may let you down by not sending in the reference forms that you desperately need. Don't take this personally. Just compensate for the possibility by seeking one or two more references than you need.

How will I know if my application is complete or not?
Some states send out a notification when your application is complete (including having received all of your references). Other states send out an "incomplete" warning telling you who has not yet sent in their references. Check with your state board in this regard.

Should I follow up and remind my references?
Absolutely. You can remind without being too pushy by casually asking, "Any trouble or questions with that form I dropped off a couple of weeks ago?" Most of the time, you will hear, "Oh, no. It was pretty straight forward. I will get it back to you shortly." If you hear anything else, you can offer, "Well, just let me know if there is any information I can help you with."