If you're in a managerial role, you may be asked to provide a reference letter for a former colleague. Knowing how to write an effective reference letter can play a significant role in a person's future job search and admission into higher education institutions. In this article, we discuss what a reference letter is, the difference between personal and professional reference letters, how to write an effective reference letter, how to write one and an example to make your own.
What is a reference letter?
A reference letter, also known as a recommendation letter, is a formal letter you may be asked to prepare for an individual applying for a job opportunity, university placement, volunteer position or internship. The person who writes a reference letter is typically a employer, supervisor, professor or an another person who is familiar with the person the letter is being written for.
When reference letters are requested, its purpose is to endorse a candidate's character, skills and experience for a job. Your letter will serve to highlight the positive attributes that made them an effective employee.
What is the difference between professional and personal reference letters?
A professional reference letter is typically written by a qualified person who is well-acquainted with a candidate's achievements in a work-type setting, such as an employer, client or teacher. It will state the length of their tenure followed by a detailed description about their duties, abilities and contributions to the company.
A personal reference letter, also referred to as a character reference, is typically written by a mentor, relative or friend. Rather than speaking to the candidate's qualifications, this letter aims to describe the personal qualities that would make them a good fit for a job.
How to write a letter of reference
While the exact format of a reference letter may vary, the following are steps you can take to write a reference letter for most situations:
1. Request information about the candidate and position
Before you write a reference letter, make sure to inquire for more details about the job opportunity. You may ask for a copy of the job description so you know what the position is asking for in terms of qualifications.
Get a copy of the individual's most recent CV or resume. This will allow you to provide accurate and current information that will ensure the reliability of your letter.
2. Create a basic outline
Organise your thoughts about the candidate before you write your letter. Think about the qualities you want to include as well as some examples to support your points.
Make sure your reference letter doesn't exceed a page unless you're writing an academic reference letter. One page will allow you room for about three brief main body paragraphs. Since space is scarce, use your words efficiently.
3. Begin with an introduction
Open the letter with a formal greeting, such as "Dear Mr./Ms. Chan," or "To Whom It May Concern." Next, state your name, the candidate's name and the reason for your letter in your opening sentence. Make sure to explain your relationship with the candidate and how long you have known them. If you've been the candidate's supervisor at work, state your position, organisation and the duration of your professional relationship.
My name is Baldo Ling and I'm a manager at XYZ Company. I'm writing to recommend Jerry Yan, who has been under my supervision at XYZ Company for the past four years.
4. Focus on a minimum of three skills or traits
Immediately after your opening sentence, list the skills or traits you want to highlight in greater detail in the body of your letter. Make sure the attributes you include are relevant to the job the candidate is applying for.
The type of skills you describe also depends on the purpose of your letter and your relationship with the candidate. If you are writing a personal reference letter, focus exclusively on the candidate's characteristics. If you are writing a professional reference letter, go into detail about certain skills that make them a good candidate for the position. In an academic reference letter, you can include both, the individual's professional abilities and their character traits.
In my experience, Jerry Yan has the stamina, communication and organisation skills to be a tremendous asset to your team.
5. Expand on their positive attributes with examples
In the second paragraph of your reference letter, describe each skill or trait in greater detail. Provide a specific example that demonstrates how their abilities made a positive impact on the individual's performance on the job.
Dong Shancai showed me she was capable of multi-tasking and carrying out multiple button-turning or button-pushing operations simultaneously. For instance, one day she volunteered to take on more work when she anticipated there would be a slowdown in production because several other workers were sick. She often accepted more responsibility and worked overtime while also taking an active role in her family life and community.
6. Conclude by summarising the candidate's skills or traits
In final paragraph, summarise the traits or skills you discussed in the body of your reference letter and conclude with why you believe the candidate would be the best fit for the job or academic degree.
To this day, I assess the work of my other workers in comparison to Dong Shancai effort and results. With her stamina, communication and organisation skills, Shancai would make an invaluable asset at XYZ Company.
7. Proofread your reference letter carefully
Your writing style is a reflection not only on you but also on the individual you are writing for. Proofread your reference letter to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Check that you have included all the necessary information such as job titles and dates.
You can also print out a draft and read it aloud. This will help you catch any mistakes or awkward sentence structures that you might have missed.
8. Sign your letter
Close your reference letter with a formal farewell such as "Kind regards," or "Yours sincerely." You should type then your full name and leave some space to personally sign the letter. While it's not necessary, you can also include your contact information below your letterhead. Make sure to keep a copy of your signed reference letter for your own record as well.
Tips for writing a letter of reference
The following are tips to use when writing a reference letter:
- Keep your letter positive. Make sure your reference letter confirms that you believe the candidate is a good match for the job.
- Use a standard business letter tone and format. Maintain a professional tone and use language that is polite and concise. Use a traditional font such as Times New Roman or Calibri to ensure maximum professionalism. Keep the font size 12 or 10 points to make sure the letter is easily readable.
- Focus on the most important points: To ensure your reference letter communicates your recommendation effectively, limit your writing to three main points. Focus on the candidate's accomplishments that are most relevant to the position and provide specific examples to demonstrate their fitness for the role.
- Follow the individual's instructions: Get information from the candidate about how you should submit your reference letter. Strictly follow the deadline and instructions to make sure you have a positive impact on their application process.
Reference letter Example
You can use the following reference letter example as a guide when writing your own:
January 31, 2021
Dear Mr Tzu,
Ying Lee has worked with me at FekFekTech Company for three years and has continually impressed me with her determination, professionalism and dedication to her career. She started as a Marketing Intern and worked her way up through the company to become an Assistant Marketing Director. She has played a vital role in the success of our marketing department over the last several years.
Ying has excellent project management, communication and organisation skills and is able to lead a large team across multiple on-going projects. Her dedication to her job within the company and her willingness to exceed our clients' expectations have made her an invaluable team player at FekFekTech Company.
I would highly recommend Ying for the position of Director of Marketing at your company. She would be a great asset and would positively contribute to your organization with her tremendous work ethic and marketing skill set as well as her qualifications and background in the industry. If you have any questions regarding Jonathan's abilities, please do not hesitate to contact me.
President of Bilat Company
2/F116 Wai Yip Street
Kwun Tong District, Hong Kong
+852 2797 8878