Tips for Acing a Reference Letter This Year

If you’ve been asked to write a reference letter, it’s important that you understand the format. What do you need to know to write a reference letter?

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What Is a Reference Letter?

A reference letter is a letter of endorsement or recommendation that can be provided by a personal or professional contact in order to support a job search. These letters are crucial to success for many but can be more important for those who are about to graduate school because they may have limited work experience or qualifications. In most cases, a reference letter should be provided by someone from your employment or education history. They should be someone who knows you personally and who has worked with you or supervised your work. If your referral contact is someone who has a good reputation in the community or your industry, this will be beneficial.

If you have been asked to write a reference letter for a co-worker or previous employee, there are certain features you should include. When writing a reference letter, you should treat it as you would any other business letter (you can find business letter samples to consider on ResumeHelp), using professional language in a concise and clear way.

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Reference Letter

The Structure of a Reference Letter

How you write a reference letter is important. If you follow this basic structure, you can create a good reference letter for the person who asked you. It is always a good idea to start by requesting a copy of the person’s resume before you write the reference. This will help you to provide a detailed and relevant letter of recommendation. Here are the main components of a personal reference letter:

1. A hook to pull in the hiring manager
Unless you are writing the reference on the spot in response to an email or letter from a potential employer, it is unlikely you will know the name of the hiring manager or recruiter the letter will be presented to. As such, a generic salutation such as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To whom it may concern” will be sufficient. If you do know the person’s name, you should use the “Dear Mr.” or “Dear Miss/Mrs.” salutation and insert the recipient’s name. You should briefly introduce yourself and your background before moving on.

2. How you know the applicant
Make it clear how you know the applicant. Were they a co-worker, your employee, or a student? If you were their former employer, you should note the period in which they worked for you. If you are providing a character reference letter, you should note how you came to know them and what your contact with them is. This will help the hiring manager to understand why you are able to credibly vouch for them.

3. Skills and details that fit the job description
Mention any skills and qualifications you can personally vouch for that will be relevant to the job application that your reference letter will support. Be honest but positive—a good recommendation letter should focus on the positive without bending the truth. If you feel you cannot be positive about the person who has asked for a reference, you should politely decline to provide one. Note the candidate’s best qualities and any actions or achievements that make them stand out in your mind. Try to give specific examples where you can. Don’t just cite good communication skills—give an example of a time when they produced a notable accomplishment or resolved a difficult situation. 

4. Closing 
In the closing paragraph of a professional reference letter you should offer to provide additional information and answer further questions if needed. Be sure to give your contact information (such as your phone number and email address) so the hiring manager can contact you if they need to. 

This basic structure will allow you to write a good reference for the person who has requested one. If you need further guidance, you can always ask a friend to give you impartial feedback on the letter (just be sure to check with human resources that you are allowed to do so, or take steps to obscure the identity of the person you are writing for). 


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What Hiring Managers Are Looking for in a Reference Letter

If you are looking to secure a reference letter from a former employer or teacher for yourself, it is important you think carefully about who you ask. You should first and foremost make sure that you ask someone who has worked closely with you so they can talk about your skills and qualifications from a personal experience. Make sure you make a formal request for a reference and explain why you want them to be your reference. If they are willing, they will either provide a written reference or the promise of a verbal reference. 

Assuming you are provided with a reference letter, there are a number of things a hiring manager will look for no matter what job title you are applying for. First and foremost, they will be looking for information about your skills and qualifications as well as information about or confirmation of your professional or academic achievements, so be sure to request this type of information from your reference. If your reference letter provides all of this with a positive tone, you can rest assured that you have secured a good letter that will increase your chances of finding a new job.

FAQ: Reference Letters

Q: How long should a reference letter be?

Generally speaking, a letter of recommendation or reference letter should be one page or less in length. However, there is no defined length for a letter of reference; if your previous employer or academic reference provides a longer letter, it is not likely to be a problem.

Q: Who can write you a reference letter?

Ideally, your reference letter should be written by a previous employer or co-worker who has firsthand experience of your capabilities. If you can, you should make sure your referral contact is someone who has a good reputation in your industry.

Q: Is a reference letter really necessary?

Reference letters are not always a necessity, especially if you are a recent graduate or are applying for entry-level jobs. However, having a professional reference letter or two at the ready is an easy way to increase your chances of success. 

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