Letter of Recommendation - How to request or write a good Reference Letter

A Letter of Recommendation is also known as a Reference Letter or a Character Reference Letter. These terms are used interchangeably.

I can't stress enough of the value in having a reference letter when you are applying for a job. This letter will help you provide strong evidence to your prospective employer of your strengths, abilities and achievements.

As an employer, when I go through the applications, the first thing I look for is a resume cover letter, then if there is a reference letter, I will read that first before I start reading the resume. The reference letter can tell me a lot about the applicant. In fact, I have hired someone because the Character Reference Letter told me that she was a hard worker and specifically, her ability to solve problems. The letter went into some detail of how she handled a particularly difficult situation at work.

Note: Another use of the reference letter is for applications to undergraduate or graduate school courses. The basics of writing the school application reference letter is the same as the basics for a job application letter of recommendation. The only difference is the details of what to put in the letter. Since I am not an expert in this area, I will refer you to the advice given by Berkeley Career Center's advice on how to ask for a recommendation letter and Associate Professor Shriram Krishnamurthi from Brown University's advice for recommendation letter writers.

Now, back to the job application letter of recommendation.

I have split the advice here to two parts. The first part is for the person writing the letter and the second part is for the person requesting the letter.

Advice for the person writing the letter

Almost everyone at some point in time will be asked to write a Reference Letter. Whether it's for an employee, a friend, or someone you've worked with, it is important to be prepared to write an effective Reference Letter.

If you are happy to write one for the person, then you should do the following:

  1. Ask the person for a copy of their resume and a list of accomplishments. This is extremely helpful if you are not sure of what to say. If you know the person well, this will help you write a better letter.
  2. Start the letter by describing how long you've known the person and in what capacity. Include dates of employment and details on how you've worked with (or known) the person.
  3. Then describe the person's skills and performance and what makes them a good employee. Also include two or three outstanding attributes. If you can, provide supporting evidence of these outstanding attributes. This is what makes a good recommendation letter and what I as an employer (and I am sure other employers) is most interested in. Many recommendation letters are so generic, the applicant might as well don't have one. A word of warning, do no exaggerate their outstanding attributes, we will definitely see it in the interview if it is untrue.
  4. End the Letter of Recommendation by summarizing why you are recommending this person for employment. You may also want to provide a phone number or email address so employers can follow up if they have questions or want more information.

It is also very important to say "no" if you are not comfortable recommending the person. It is not in the person's best interest for you to write a bland endorsement. Employers will usually be able to read what you are not saying. Just tell the person you don't know him/her well enough to write a good letter. That way you don't hurt the person's feelings.

Here are some Sample letter of recommendation and a sample character reference letters

Advice for the person requesting the letter

When asking for a reference letter, be sure to ask someone who knows you well enough. Some people you can ask are your relatives, lecturers (if you are fresh to the workforce), you supervisor, manager or your colleagues.

To help them write the Letter of Recommendation, give each a copy of your resume and describe the positions that you are investigating. The more they understand your objective and qualifications, the better the reference they will be able to give you.

Ensure that the letter of recommendation is sent directly to you. It is in your best interests to be able to screen for a less than glowing recommendation. When you send out your resume, include a copy of each Letter of Recommendation and carry them with you on job interviews.

Send a thank you letter to each of your references when you have completed your job search. It is wise to keep in close contact with your references for two reasons:

  • References can be a great networking tool to track down job leads.
  • You may need their help again down the road.
Be prompt with your thank you letters.

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Hi I'm Dax...

I’m an entrepreneur, mentor, consultant and I was a global IT service manager for one of the largest multinational in the world.

I'm here to help you write better business letters.

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