At some point in your career, you will probably be asked to write a reference letter for somebody. It can be a friend, a co-worker, or even a family member. It is a great way to vouch for somebody’s expertise and skill level.
A good reference letter can help somebody get their dream job. However, a bad one can effectively kill their chances. Knowing how to write one perfectly is a great skill to have.
But it is not an easy task. We got you covered. In this article, we are going to explore the following questions:
- What is a reference letter?
- Who Can Write a Reference Letter?
- How to Write a Reference Letter?
As there are a couple of reference letter types out there with different purposes, we are also going to show you what each one is used for. And, to wrap things up, we are going to give you some great tips and tricks to get you started.
Before candidates can even think about a reference letter, they need to make their resume stand out and create a compelling cover letter. That being said, let’s dive into the topic of reference letters.
What is a Reference Letter?
Before we go any further, we need to define what a reference letter actually is. In its core, the reference letter is an official document, used for you to testify a person’s skills, achievements, and character.
There are a variety of situations it can be used for.
The most common ones are:
- Applying for a job
- Applying for an internship
- Applying for volunteer work
- Applying for college
- Applying for specific academic courses
No matter the case, the reference letter’s goal is to show that the candidate is perfect for the opportunity they are facing.
In some occasions, these reference letters are requested by the one who takes the decision.
But even if it’s not mandatory, a reference letter is always a useful asset.
Who Can Write a Reference Letter?
When you are asked to write a reference letter, you need to stop and really think about if you are the right person for the job.
Technically, there are no restrictions on who can write one. However, it is a formal document, and providing false information on it can lead to legal consequences.
Whether it is for job application, or for college courses, you need to be sure you can provide accurate information. There are two main questions you need to ask yourself to determine if you can provide such a reference letter:
- Do you know the person reasonably well?
- Do you know the person good enough to provide a meaningful reference?
Last, but not least, the reference should be a positive one. If you are good on all three, you can accept to write the reference letter.
However, if you think that there are no good relevant qualifications on which to emphasize, or you had a falling out in the past, you should advise them to look for a reference from someone else.
How to Write a Reference Letter?
Now that you know what a reference letter is, and where you should consider writing one, it is time to learn how to do it correctly. It may be a little tricky, but below is every part of a reference letter that you need to include.
An important step of every formal document is to start it with the right salutation. The most common way to start is with “Dear” and it would do just fine in that case too.
After that, you need to include the name of the person it is addressed to. Last name is usually enough, as soon as you complete it with Mr/Mrs/Ms before that.
For example: “Dear Ms. Doe,”
It gets a little trickier when you don’t know that person’s gender. If that’s the case, but you happen to know both their names, you can use them and skip over the gender clarification.
Instead, you can address them with their title.
For example, “Dear Hiring Manager”, or “Dear Admission Committee” can do just fine, depending on what is the reference letter about.
Explain your connection to that person
When you are done with the greeting, you need to provide some background. It is important to show how you know that person you are recommending.
Don’t just skip over details, they are essential. Make sure you describe:
- How do you know that person?
- How long have you known them?
- Why are they qualified for whatever opportunity they are after with that reference letter?
Don’t focus on their qualifications too much just yet, this part is only to show that you really know the person well. Make sure you also mention the name of the institution or company that has provided that opportunity
Show their good qualification
Once you have shown your connection, it is time to focus on these qualifications. This part of the reference letter is the most crucial.
Don’t limit yourself to just one paragraph, if you have more to say. That’s the place to show all their good qualities, expertise, and relevant skills. If you can relate your observations to skills, required for the job, your reference letter can be extremely influential for that person’s application.
Make sure you don’t just throw words in the air. Provide some examples of what you are talking about. That’s what makes the reference letter really valuable.
Wrap it up
To finish up on a strong note, make sure you end with some great conclusions. It should show that you are really confident this person is the right one for the opportunity.
When you do so, make sure you also summarize all good points you made earlier on in the reference letter, highlighting this person’s best qualities again. Make sure you also list your contact information. You would want to make yourself available for more questions regarding your reference letter.
It is best to list at least two ways of communication. Usually, a phone number and an email address would do just fine.
Have a professional closer
Just like you started with a greeting, it is important to end with one again. The most common out there are:
- Kind regards
- Best regards
Then just follow it up with your full name, and you should be all done.
Types of reference letter
You now know the basics of writing a good reference letter. But if you want to really perfect it, you need to know the different types of reference letters.
There are three main types, and we will go through them one by one.
Professional reference letter
A professional reference is aimed to show a person’s professional abilities at the workplace. It is usually written by a supervisor, colleague, or anybody who has had a clear view of the work you have done.
What a professional reference letter should describe are the person’s position and responsibilities. It should clearly show their abilities, qualifications, and how they have contributed to the company in the time they have spent there.
Just like we mentioned before, the reference letter should also include some examples. So if you are writing a professional reference letter, make sure you have some work-related examples ready.
Academic reference letter
Unlike the professional reference letter, the academic reference letter should focus on your education. First, it should be written by a teacher, professor, or advisor.
Its main goal is to show your academic achievements and educational background in the best possible light. So, if you are writing one, make sure you have some academic examples in store.
Character reference letter
The last type of reference letter is somewhat more informal. The character reference letter shows a person’s soft skills, character, and personality traits.
It is usually written by somebody who has not worked with the candidate in a professional or academic way. It can be written by a friend, family member, or neighbor.
A character reference letter focuses mainly on soft skills and abilities. As it does not focus on any professional or academic achievements, this type of reference letter is typically used for entry-level positions.
Tips and tricks
Now you know everything you need to know about reference letters. But, as always, we wouldn’t leave you off with some great tips and tricks.
So let’s dive in.
Make it positive
Just like we mentioned before, you need to make the reference letter positive, no matter its type.
If you are unable to provide good feedback about a person, refuse to write a reference letter for them. That’s not the place to act upon any misgiving you had between you.
It is a formal document, and as such, it should be treated seriously.
Don't forget to use examples
Another thing we already mentioned but is worth to be said again, is that you should provide examples. Throwing words into the air does not do any good to nobody.
You need to be sure you can provide specific examples of the person’s qualities when you are writing their reference letter.
That’s how the employer would know that you are telling the truth about the candidate’s qualifications.
Stay away from private details
Last, but not least, keep it to the point. Every reference level type has a purpose, and none of them include private details.
Employers are not interested in any of that. So make sure you only list what is relevant to the purpose of the reference letter.
We are all done.
Now you know what a reference letter is and when you can provide one.
You are now ready to write a perfect reference letter, depending on the type needed.
- Don’t forget – if you can’t say anything nice about the person’s qualifications, just refuse to write a reference letter.
- It is a form of a legal document, so keep that in mind.
- Focus on their strengths and accomplishments.