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A Good Reference Letter Is the Best Gift for the Person You Value

A Good Reference Letter Is the Best Gift for the Person You Value

When you were asked to write a reference letter, did you get a warm fuzzy feeling or did you cringe with anxiety? Perhaps a little of both?

Either way, having to write a reference letter comes with great responsibility. And while you might feel excited to help someone on their journey to a better future, you also realize there is a lot relying on your writing abilities.

First, do you know what a reference letter is?

Do you know what to say in a reference letter? How long should it be? How can you sell the person’s strengths and abilities without sounding overzealous?

It’s important first to understand the purpose behind the reference letter. Companies and institutions who ask for reference letters want to know why a candidate would be well suited for a position, but it’s equally important for them to know what qualifies you to recommend them for such a position.

Before you start writing, make sure you understand the context of the situation. Is this letter for school admission? A new job? Entry into an organization?

If you still aren’t sure about content, formatting, or what exactly you should say, here are a few tips and tricks you can apply when crafting your reference letter:

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10 Features of Standout Reference Letters and What Makes Them So Special

Speak from a personal perspective

    This example from Monster.com demonstrates the writer’s personal experience with Sharon, the person she is referring.[1] She takes care to include her own observations when working with Sharon, along with a specific situation in which Sharon attended optional professional development seminars.

    However, make sure that your personal testament is just that – personal. Don’t forge instances or embellish events because you think they sound good.

    Use a business letter format

      If you are sending a hard copy letter, you want to make a professional presentation to the reader. Using a standard business letter format, like the one above, can give your message a toned, polished look without distracting from the content.[2]

      Write your letter based off the job description

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        It’s important to know in what context your letter will be used. If it’s for a particular job, ask the person for a copy of the job description. You can use the description to search for clues about what qualities the ideal candidate will have, and then tailor your letter to demonstrate those same qualities, if they apply to the person you are referring.

        The example above shows the writer understands the position the person is applying for, and relates his skills to ones that will benefit the position.

        Keep it positive

          The purpose behind a recommendation letter is to showcase why a person deserves the attention of the company or institution who requested the letter, as demonstrated in the above example.[3] We all have our shortcomings, but a reference letter isn’t the place to point those out.

          If you don’t believe you can truthfully describe the person in a positive light, you may want to consider declining the request to write the letter.

          Only write a letter if you know the person well enough

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            If you are writing a letter, you should be familiar enough with the person to speak about their abilities and accomplishments, just like the example above.[4] You would be better equipped to write a letter for a colleague with whom you worked side by side for a year, rather than someone who simply worked in your building and spoke to you weekly for the past five years.

            Make it simple and to the point.

              You don’t need to write an entire saga of why a person deserves your recommendation. On the other hand, you also don’t want to make your message too brief. Keep your reference letter to one page, and use as much of that page as necessary to paint a clear, concise picture of the person you are referring.

              Don’t worry too much about creativity, and certainly avoid “fluff.” Instead, focus on how to deliver the most content in the shortest amount of words and space, like the example above.[5]

              Include your contact information

                Let the reader know how they can reach out to you if they have any additional questions. You can share your direct phone number or email address, as shown above.

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                Ask for the person’s resume or CV.

                Understanding other aspects about the person you are writing about can give you important clues to include in your letter.

                Share specific examples of the person’s work

                  The more specific you can be about the person’s true abilities, the better idea the reader will have of how the person might perform. In this example from Resumo, the writer shares that the person he is referring successfully helped to closed new contracts worth several million dollars and developed a new business line focused on Public Safety.

                  Once you finish your first draft, look for instances where you can speak more specifically about the person’s accomplishments or skills. This might take the form of numbers, statistics, rankings, how much money the person saved the company, etc.

                  Submit your letter to the right person

                  Do you need to give the letter to the person for whom you wrote it, or should be it mailed directly to the person requiring the letter? If you aren’t sure, ask.

                  You don’t have to be a good writer to write a great reference letter!

                  Use the above tips and samples to help ease your writing anxiety. Remember, if the person doesn’t reach their ultimate goal, it’s probably not because you wrote a bad letter.

                  Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

                  Reference

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                  Alli Hill

                  Freelance Writer and Marketing Consultant

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                  Last Updated on December 17, 2018

                  Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

                  Read this and stop feeling overwhelmed…for good!

                  We live in a time of productivity overload.

                  Everywhere you turn are articles and books about how to be more productive, how to squeeze 27 hours of work out of every 24, how to double your work pace, how to do more and more all in the name of someday getting out of the rat race. Well this is about the side effects of those ideas. If we aren’t multitasking, we feel lazy. If we aren’t doing everything, we feel like we’re slacking. We compare ourselves to others who we think are doing more, having more, getting more and achieving more, and it’s driving us crazy. We feel overwhelmed when we think we have too much to do, too much is expected of us, or that a stressor is too much for us to handle. And we respond by lashing out with emotions of anger, irritability, anxiety, doubt and helplessness.

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                  This season especially is the most stressful time of year. Between the holidays, final exams, family gatherings and general feelings of guilt that it’s the end of the year, it’s easy to get overwhelmed thinking of all the things you still need to get done. But if you use these tips, not only will you get the important stuff done, you’ll keep your sanity while doing it!

                    Is this you?

                    Change your thought pattern-stop thinking negatively

                    When you feel overwhelmed, the first thing you do is start thinking negatively or begin to resent why it’s your responsibility in the first place! The first thing you have to do is to stop! Stop thinking negatively immediately. Instead, focus on the positive. If you’re stuck in traffic, think of how great it is to have some time to yourself. If you’re rushing trying to get things done by a deadline, think how lucky you are to have a purpose and to be working towards it. If you’re stressing about a final exam, think of how fortunate you are to be given the opportunity of higher education. After you’ve changed your thought patterns, you must then say to yourself “I can do this.” Keep saying it until you believe it and you’re more than halfway to ending feeling overwhelmed.

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                    Take a deep breath/change your body posture

                    When you’re stressed certain things happen to your body. You start to breath shallowly, you hunch over, you immediately tense up and all that tension drives your feelings of stress even more. Relax! Straighten your posture and take at least ten deep, cleansing, breaths. Force yourself to smile and do something to change your state. It could be as simple as giving yourself a hug or as silly as clapping your hands three times, throwing them up in the air and shouting “I GOT THIS!” Think to yourself, how would I sit/stand if I had perfect confidence and control of the situation?

                    Focus on right now

                    Now that you are in a better state of mind and are no longer thinking negatively, you need to focus on the here and now. Ask yourself this question: What is the most important thing I have control of and can act on right now? Keep asking yourself this until you have a concrete next step.

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                    Take Action

                    Now that you know what’s most important and what to do about it, do it! Start with the first step and focus on getting that done. Don’t worry about anything else right now, just on what your first step is and how to get it done. Once that’s done with, determine the next most important step and get that done.

                    Let go of what you can’t control (the gambler’s theory)

                    Seasoned gamblers understand the importance of due diligence and knowing when to let go. The Gambler’s Theory is that once your bet is placed there is nothing you can do, so you might as well relax and enjoy the process. The time to worry is when you’re figuring out the best odds and making the decision of what to bet when you can actually take action. I used this one a lot in college. After an exam, there is absolutely no point in stressing about it. There’s nothing you can do. And the same goes for feeling overwhelmed. If you can do something about your situation, do it, focus and take action. But if you’ve done what you could and now are just waiting, or if you’re worried about something you have no control over, realize that there’s no point. You might as well relax and enjoy the moment.

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                      Relax and enjoy the moment

                      Stop feeling guilty

                      Finally, stop comparing yourself to others. If you are at your wits end trying to keep up with what you think you should be doing, you aren’t being fair to yourself. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive for improvement, just don’t go overboard because you feel like you have to. Only you know what’s really important to you, and your personal success journey so focus on what your top priorities are, not someone else’s.

                      Everyone feels overwhelmed sometimes. The important thing is to realize it’s normal and that you can do something about it by taking focused and deliberate action. Happy Holidays!

                      Featured photo credit: Stress Therapy via flickr.com

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