Writing Winning Reference Letters
I have come across a practice that is very disturbing to me and that is the practice of writing a not so nice reference letter. I am talking about the case where someone contacts you and asks you to be one of their references for a job or for university purposes. Now I have lived by this rule and I will continue to live by it. If I am asked to write a reference letter for anyone and I cannot do a good job then I tell them to ask someone else. Thankfully I have only had to do that once in my career but I believe we should excuse ourselves if we find that being truthful in that letter means we give a bad report. Others may see if differently but that is how I see it.
When someone selects you to write a letter of reference I believe they have thought about it and in their mind you will do a good job at representing them to that company or that university. What we write about the individual can be helpful or detrimental. Sometimes some letters are not really bad but they are not saying anything commendable either. The reference letter should serve to convince the company or university that this is the right person.
So what should we include in a reference letter to make that person stand out? A reference letter should include a few basic things. Of course more could be added but at the very least these things should be included. The letter should include:
- Information about how long you have known this person and in what capacity
- A fair and honest evaluation of the person’s skills (if you are able to come up with specific examples that stand out then include that as well)
- Explain why this person is fit for the specific job or program
Reference letters carry a great amount of weight in some instances. If we cannot represent this person well, then we really should excuse ourselves. We should also prepare a letter that is free of errors as this can send the wrong message to the person on the other end.