How to Write a Powerful Reference Letter

Writing a reference letter, also known as a letter of recommendation, is a huge responsibility. You've been asked to support someone when he or she is passing through a major life change. Knowing how and when to write a letter of recommendation is therefore very important.

The most common letter of recommendation is the employment reference, when someone you know is applying for a job. Personal or character reference letters may be necessary when applying to adopt a child, when facing a court trial, or applying for a volunteer position.

When you need to ask someone for such a letter, it can be to your benefit if you ask the writer if he or she would like a draft letter to work from. If so, you can put your knowledge of how to write a great letter together with a few details about your goals.

There are different kinds of reference letters so make sure you specify exactly what you need, whether it is a personal, character, or employment reference.

Yes, there is a right way to request a letter

1. Ask people that you know well and who are aware of your capabilities that make you a good candidate. It's not a good idea to get letters of recommendation from relatives. Be sure you know how many letters are required; if not specified, three is usually sufficient. One page is a good length.

2. Give your writers sufficient time to write, one week minimum.

3. Telling your writers exactly what your goal is and describing the qualities you possess that you think will make you successful will help your writers know which of their experiences with you are appropriate to mention.

Letter of recommendation ABCs

1. If you don't know the name of the person the letter is for, use the salutation "To whom it may concern".

2. Make the letter short and to the point.

3. Explain enough about yourself to indicate why you are a good reference: why your opinions are appropriate, accurate and important.

4. This is one instance where it is definitely true, "if you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all." If this is the case, you should decline to write the letter. Negative comments and allegations can be construed as being slander or libelous. You don't want your letter to lead to legal problems!

5. Use a respectful closing such as "Sincerely", or "Sincerely yours".

How to write an employment letter of reference

If required or appropriate, include:

1. Dates of employment, job title or titles, and/or salary and benefits details.

2. Confirmation of positive qualities concerning the person's performance, attitude and relationships with other workers in terms of expectations or standards in place within the company.

Describe positive attributes depending on thejob held, such as whether it was a leadership, team, or solitary position. Use phrases that are positive attributes such as ability to handle and arbitrate conflict, ability to communicate, willingness to accept responsibility, intelligence, initiative, competitiveness, etc.

3. A brief explanation of the person's responsibilities and their vocational skills and strengths, using precise, positive adjectives such as honest, goal oriented, articulate, hard working, effective, driven, efficient, etc.

4. State that you would willingly re-employ the person if the opportunity arose if this is true, and anything else that expresses your personal feelings about working with this person.

5. Offer to provide more information if required.

6. Provide your contact information.

How to write a personal or character reference

1. Decline to write the reference if you are not willing or able to comply with other possible requirements, such as attending a hearing or court trial or being personally interviewed.

2. State how you met this person and how long you've known him or her.

3. State your own qualifications - why you are a good reference.

4. Briefly describe strengths/character/how this person is exceptional.

5. Describe anecdotes and memories that support your views.

6. Offer to provide more information if needed

7. Provide your contact information.

From reading this article, you've probably learned something you didn't already know about writing a letter of recommendation. For that reason alone, I advise anyone needing a letter of recommendation to offer a draft to potential writers.

They don't have to agree with your perceptions of yourself, they just may benefit from some instruction about what you need and how you need it to be written to be effective. Or, give them a link to this article!

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