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:
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. 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.
Write your letter based off the job description
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. 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
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. 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.
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.
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
|||^||Monster: Sample of a Recommendation Letter|
|||^||Document Template: 6 Samples Of Business Letter Format To Write A Perfect Letter|
|||^||My Recommendation Letter Blog: Recommendation Letter 2017|
|||^||CVRCook: Reference Letter|
|||^||Wikihow: How to Write a Letter of Recommendation|