A Reference Letter is a detailed document written by an individual to advocate for an applicant’s positive skills, character, and attributes.
The writer of the reference letter must be well known to the applicant to enable him/her to provide information about an individual’s abilities and achievements from his/her point of view.
The reference letter can be used to recommend an applicant/candidate for a position /job. This can help boost an applicant’s resume, therefore, increase his/her chances of landing the position. It can also help set the candidate apart from other applicants.
Candidates selected for the job position may sometimes be required to provide a reference letter before they sign the job contract with the employer. In this situation, the reference should be written by a former employer who can attest to a candidate’s ability to carry out duties and responsibilities related to the position they have been selected for.
The reference letter can also be used to advocate for students interested in admission to a learning institution/program. It can help communicate information about the student’s impressive academic, personal and social skills that may be sought for by the institution/program.
The letter can also be used to refer an individual applying for funds. In this case, the letter will be used to advocate a person’s integrity and ability to fulfill his/her commitments, especially in relation to paying back funds on time.
Finally, a reference letter can be a tenancy requirement used to confirm that a prospective tenant is financially stable, responsible, and reliable. It can help a tenant secure property while acting as a background check, especially since, in most cases, an individual’s former/current landlord, property manager, or roommate will be the one writing the letter.
Types of Reference Letter
There are different types of reference letters, each used in different settings or circumstances, but ultimately, they all have one goal, which is to communicate about a person’s skills and character. They help build the confidence of the recipient in a person/candidate by verifying their qualities and qualifications.
The following are the types of reference letters an individual can write:
Business reference letters
A business reference letter is a document written on behalf of a business associate, client, vendor or other business to inform others of the quality of the entity's work. It helps a business entity verify its claim of efficiency and professionalism in a specific line of service.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Character/personal reference letters
A character /personal reference letter is a document written by an individual that knows a candidate personally, such as friends, family, neighbors, and mentors. A character reference letter endorses a candidate's personal qualities in relation to the position he/she is seeking.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Professional reference letters
A professional reference letter is a document written by an individual who knows a candidate officially, such as an employer, on behalf of an employee. The writer of a professional reference letter must state in what professional capacity he/she knows the applicant and how long they have been acquainted with one another.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Email reference letters
An email reference letter is a letter sent via email. The email reference letter has a slightly different format from that of a hard copy as it doesn't require the recipient's name and address on its letterhead; rather, the writer of an email reference letter should ensure the subject line should read 'Reference-candidate's First name last name.'
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Employee reference letters
An employee reference letter is a detailed letter of an employee's time at a company, his/her achievements and an endorsement by the writer who may be the employer, manager, mentor or human resource representative. It highlight's an employee's skills, qualifications and responsibilities in the former company.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
Academic reference letters
The academic reference letter is a document written by a representative of an applicant's school or learning institution like a teacher, counselor or vocational trainer. It is written to help strengthen a candidate's application into a school or help an applicant land a job. The letter mainly focuses on a candidate's academic background and accomplishments.
Download: Microsoft Word (.docx)
How to Format a Reference Letter
A well-formatted reference letter conveys the writer’s professionalism and seriousness. This can have a positive impact on the recipient. It also allows the writer to comfortably provide his/her information. Therefore, when writing a reference letter, a writer should consider the following factors during letter formatting:
During writing, it is important that the writer considers the length of the reference letter. A reference letter should be one page long. This helps ensure that the writer of the letter sticks to relevant information concerning the candidate or applicant. If the reference letter is too short, then the recipient might assume that the writer is not very familiar with the candidate or applicant, while a letter that is too long can discourage a busy recipient from reading it.
The writer should also consider the arrangement of information in the letter, which can be referred to as format. The writer should arrange the letter by first providing his/her contact details, the date, and finally the hiring manager’s address. The writer should then start the letter with a salutation followed by the introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs. At the end of the reference letter, the writer will be required to provide his/her signature and indicate his/her typed name. Using the proper format ensures that the information conveyed in the reference letter is delivered in a coherent manner
A well-composed reference letter should be written in an appropriate font. A writer should consider using the Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri font type. A font size of between10 and 12 can be used to help ease readability. The use of a proper font type and size can also help ensure the letter is clear.
How to Write a Reference Letter
A well-written reference letter should effectively communicate the writer’s belief in the applicant’s abilities. The writer should ensure that the information written in the letter provides adequate information that demonstrates why the candidate is a good fit for the position that he/she has applied for. Therefore, the writer of the reference letter should ensure that he/she adheres to the following procedure:
Step 1: Pre-writing considerations
Before writing a reference letter, there are pre-consideration the writer should take into account. A writer should consider making dong the following in the pre-writing stage to help ease the processes:
Gather knowledge of the candidate
First, the writer should collect information about the applicant. The writer can sift through prior records of the candidate to get a better grasp on the information he/she may provide in the reference letter. This also helps ensure that the writer can provide can prove the information provided in the letter.
Tip: The candidate/applicant recommended in the reference letter should be well known to the writer. This ensures that he/she can strongly attest to the applicant’s abilities and qualifications. However, friends and family are likely to provide biased information; therefore, they may not be in the best position to write a professional reference letter.
Investigate the position the candidate is applying for
Secondly, the writer should investigate the position the applicant is applying for. This will help him/her identify the qualities he/she should highlight in the reference letter. It will also help the writer tailor the information to the position/job.
Ask for a copy of CV or resume
Thirdly a request for a copy of the applicant’s CV or resume should be made. The information provided by the writer should complement what is contained in the CV /resume. It will also help the writer avoid the repetition of information that is already contained in this application document.
Ask for a copy of the job posting
Next, the writer should ask the applicant for a copy of the job posting to help him identify specific skills and qualifications that the employer is looking for. The writer will can then include the identified skills and qualifications in the reference letter.
Get information regarding submission of a letter
Finally, the writer should request the applicant to provide him /her with the earliest submission date of the reference letter or application information. This helps ensure that the letter is delivered or received at the time designated by the employer.
Step 2: Write the letter
Once the writer is satisfied with the information obtained, he/she can start writing a reference letter. The writer should ensure that the letter is written in a well-structured business format. The following details should be written in the letter:
Your personal information
The reference letter should contain the writer’s personal information. This should include his/her name, address, and contact information. This will help identify who the writer is and indicates how the employer/hiring manager can get in touch with him/her.
The writer of the reference letter should also provide the date of writing. The writer should ensure that the date is placed on the top left of the page. This will help inform that the recipient knows when the letter was written.
Hiring manager’s details
The write should ensure that the reference letter contains the hiring manager’s name, title, and address. This helps ensure that the letter is delivered to the intended target, therefore completing the candidate’s application information.
Note: If a writer is sending the reference letter via email, then he/she is not required to provide any contact information or date on the letterhead. The contact information in such a case will be written after the email signature. The subject line should only indicate the candidate’s name, the position he/she is applying for, and the writer’s intention for writing the letter, for example, the Reference letter for the Sarah King-Teaching position.
The writer should start by addressing the recipient by name in the salutation, for example, ‘Dear Mr./Mrs. last name.’ This will demonstrate professionalism and strength in using the business format to write the letter. It also helps to set an appropriate tone for the rest of the letter. The writer can also address the letter ‘To Whom It May Concern.’ Especially if the recipient’s name is unknown to him/her.
The introduction of the reference letter helps to capture the recipient’s attention. It also enables the writer to provide a solid foundation from which to base the rest of the information contained in the letter. Therefore, the following information should be contained in the introduction of the reference letter:
The introductory line of the reference letter can be the statement expressing how the writer feels about the applicant’s abilities, a factual statement about the candidate, an award won by the applicant, or anything that can get the employer’s attention. A statement like this can help hook the employer into reading the reference letter.
Your relationship with the candidate
The writer should explain the relationship he/she shares with the applicant and the duration of time he/she has known the candidate. This helps provide credibility to the recommendation made because the writer can show why he/she is in the best position to write the reference letter.
The body of the reference letter goes into detail about the applicant. It helps elaborate the skills and qualifications of the applicant. It also enables the writer to connect the information he/she intends on providing. The body of a letter should contain the following information:
Facts about the candidate
The writer of a reference letter should ensure that the body of the letter provides adequate facts about the applicant/candidate. The information can include the applicant’s education, qualifications, former or current occupation/employment, etc. The writer should ensure that the facts he/she has state can be proven with ease.
Candidate’s skills and qualities
The writer should state a list of at least three exceptional skills and qualities in the reference letter. The writer can highlight qualities such as dedication, motivation, honesty, responsibility, diligence, loyalty, helpfulness, and discipline. The writer should be sure to relate the qualities and skills stated to the position the applicant is applying for.
The writer should ensure that he/she uses concrete examples to support the information contained in the reference letter. The use of concrete examples can be an effective way to strengthen the points made by the writer. However, the examples used should not be too long as the writer only has limited space.
A strong conclusion should remind the recipient of the information stated in the recommendation letter. The writer of the reference letter should also reiterate his/her belief in the candidate. The conclusion of the letter should also include the following:
Include your contact details for follow-up
The writer should be sure to conclude the reference letter by providing his/her contact information, that is, if he/she had not provided it on the letterhead. The writer should also offer to answer any questions or clarify any points made about the candidate. This indicates the writer’s confidence in the information provided.
The writer should thank the recipient for their time and consideration
The writer should end by thanking the recipient for his/her time and consideration. This is respectful, polite and it shows that the writer is aware that the recipient is also considering other candidates. It is also an indication of proper business etiquette.
The reference letter should be concluded with an appropriate professional word or phrase like sincerely, regards yours truly, etc. This demonstrates attention to detail and adherence to appropriate business format.
Reference Letter Template
[CITY, STATE, ZIP CODE]
[RECIPIENT’S FULL NAME]
[CITY, STATE, ZIP CODE]
Dear [RECIPIENT’S NAME]
It is with honor that I write this letter to refer to [name of applicant]. We have known each other for [state period]. We met will working at[state where you met the applicant and prior/current position he/she occupies].
As a [former/current position], [name of applicant] was always[state qualities].I can recall one exceptional incident when [name of applicant] used his [name skill/quality or ability] to[provide an example].
[Name of applicant] is hardworking, dedicated, and a team player. Therefore, I believe that[he/she]is the best candidate for the job.
For any further questions or clarifications please feel free to contact me.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Reference Letter Examples
Tips for Writing a Great Reference Letter
The writer should ensure that the reference letter is effective in compelling the hiring manager/employer to consider the applicant. The following tips can help the writer achieve:
Give positive qualities
The writer should ensure that he/she can provide a positive outlook of the candidate. If the writer feels that his/her knowledge of the applicant is insufficient, he/she should decline the request by an applicant to craft the reference letter. Writing a negative reference can affect an applicant’s chances of landing the job. A writer that is sure of his/her ability to write the reference letter should be able to recall who the applicant is, the role the candidate played while working with him/her, and the period he/she worked together with the applicant. The writer should also point out two-three qualities about the applicant that he/she can support with specific examples. Finally, the writer should ensure that the letter conveys his/her specific experiences with the applicant. The experienced written should show the candidate’s positive attributes or knowledge using one relevant example.
Proofread your letter before sending it
Once the reference letter is complete, the writer should proofread it to ensure that it is completely free of errors. This can also be done by another individual so long as the writer ensures that the candidate’s name is concealed to protect his/her privacy. Proofreading enables the writer to polish up the letter by editing it to a higher standard.
Give context to each example
Each example used in the reference letters should be supported by one or two sentences that provide more information about the skills, qualities and experiences shared. This ensures that the points made by the writer have adequate, relevant detail for the recipient’s comprehension.
A writer should also be flexible with the information he/she provides in the reference letter. The skills, qualities, and experiences should be modified to what the hiring manager /employer is seeking in an employee making the points stated relevant to the position the candidate is applying for.
A reference letter should be written from the point of honesty to enhance credibility. The writer should not compose a letter for a candidate he/she does not believe is qualified. This can prompt him/her to write exaggerated and dishonest information, leading the hiring manager/employer to question his/her credibility.
The writer should ensure that the reference letter is tailored to the position the candidate is applying for. This helps ensure that information provided is aimed at showing that the candidate is the best choice for the job. Ensuring that the information has been thoughtfully selected will help the employer or hiring manager consider the candidate.
Add relevant details
The information contained in the reference letter should be related to the position the applicant is applying for. Writing a generic reference letter can lead the hiring manager to believe that the writer knows nothing about the position the applicant is applying for.
Example (of a generic reference letter):
John is hard-working, motivated, and honest. This, I believe, makes him the best candidate for the position of a graphic designer.
Example (of a relevant reference letter):
John is skilled in the use of graphic design software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and In-Design. His ability to creatively use this software for his work makes him the best candidate for the graphic design position.
Write clear and concise letter
The reference letter should be written with words that are precise and deliberate. Writing clearly and concisely enables the writer of the letter to get straight to the point. It also helps the writer avoid being too wordy. This makes the reference letter more understandable.
What to Avoid in a Reference Letter
A poorly written reference letter can be attributed to various factors. However, a writer can avoid some mistakes to ensure that he /she writes an appropriate reference letter. The following should be avoided during the writing of the letter:
Do not include irrelevant personal information
The writer of the reference letter should avoid using irrelevant personal information. This is considered unprofessional and can have a negative impact on the hiring manager/employer. This can lead the employer to disregard the applicant.
Do not use jokes
A reference letter is a serious formal document. The writer should avoid using jokes in the letter as this can irritate the hiring manager, who may feel that the letter is an absolute waste of his/her time. The use of inappropriate jokes can make the hiring manager/employer feel uncomfortable.
Avoid making spelling mistakes and typos
Making spelling mistakes and typos can lead the employer/hiring manager to believe that the reference letter writer is a poor communicator. It gives the employer the impression that the writer did not take his/her time to write a good letter. Smelling mistakes and typos will also lower the quality of the reference letter.
Avoid private details
The writer of a reference letter should avoid providing private information about the applicant. The employer/hiring manager is not interested in private details about the applicant; therefore, providing information such as the candidate’s relationship status or religion is unnecessary.
A reference letter is a document that advocates an applicant’s good qualities. A great reference letter should communicate effectively to ensure that it can lead the employer to consider the applicant. It is the responsibility of the writer of a reference letter to ensure that it is well-formatted and structured for it to be of high quality.