Writing Winning Reference Letters

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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.

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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:

  1. Information about how long you have known this person and in what capacity
  2. 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)
  3. 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.

 


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12 Responses

  1. Areefa Ali says:

    Great tips on writing a good reference letter. I agree with you, if someone asks you to write one, and you cannot, simply decline. Some people may get offended, but it’s better than writing one that could be detrimental to their future career.

  2. Lori Labre says:

    Having never had to write a reference letter to date, I had not really thought of this before. But it is so true. The person who needs the letter is expecting a positive review to help them. And it is a great idea to ask what to highlight in this letter due to the recepient and need. Thank you for your share.

  3. jcortesmackenroth says:

    Interesting article. Someone asked me to write down the reference letter for her graduate school. I had to reject her for some reasons. She was upset and then she told me that she didn’t want to be my friend. I was like – “Well, suit yourself.”

    • LOL…she should be happy that you told her that, rather than give her a lackluster recommendation. I would thank you for your honesty and find out what I needed to improve on

  4. Ana De-Jesus says:

    I am the same there has been times when I have been unable to reccomend someone simply because I didn’t want to be negative but then again I did not want to be dishonest either.

  5. It is always a good idea to check with the person first before giving their name as a reference. That’s one. Two, you should always ask the person with the most relevant and key information about you for each application. My last two job applications went well I feel more so because of my references comments than how I did in the interviews! LOL! Great post.

  1. April 25, 2016

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