Larry Barkdull  

How to Write a Perfect Reference Letter

By Larry Barkdull, Award-Winning, Nationally Recognized Writer

An effective reference letter could mean the difference between a candidate's acceptance or rejection. You may be a person requesting a reference letter, or you may be a person writing a reference letter. In either case, the information in this article can make both requesting and writing the letter easier. A reference letter is essentially the same as a recommendation letter but the reference letter is sent to an unknown employer, whereas a recommendation letter is sent to a known employer. Primarily, a reference letter is used to introduce a person and vouch for his integrity, character, and abilities.

This article discusses:

Requesting a Reference Letter/Letter of Reference

Before you request a reference letter, here are a few things to keep in mind:

Agreeing to Write a Reference Letter/Letter of Reference

Are you the right person to write a reference letter? If you are asked to write a letter of reference, you may need to discuss this subject with the requester. Can you honestly write positive things about the person who has requested the letter? If not, you should bow out gracefully at the beginning. On the other hand, if you feel you qualify, brainstorm with the requester so you can write what he or she wishes to be said, and be sensitive to his/her deadlines.

Have the person give you a list of accomplishments, organizations that he/she belongs to, or any other relevant information. It might surprise you to see how much that person has done outside of your personal contact with them. This can also help you get a more accurate picture of the individual. Having the person give you a copy of his/her resume is an easy way to have this information at hand. Keep in mind, however, that you can only vouch for what you know from your own personal experience with the individual.

How to Write a Reference Letter

Here are some easy guidelines (in no specific order):

Reference Letter Tips

Here are some additional things to keep in mind:

Appearance. Type your reference letter. Your reference letter casts a reflection on both you and the candidate. Appearance may even determine if it will be read or not. Print the letter on good quality ink-jet paper.

Specifics. Concentrate on several different aspects of the person. Be specific when you refer to his/her skills, attitude, personal attributes, contributions, performance, growth, etc. during the time period you have known the candidate.

Word usage.

Attributes. The National Association of Colleges and Employers compiled the following list of attributes. They can be exceptional topics to address as you describe the candidate:

Intangible qualities. The ASCUS Annual listed the following intangible qualities as important when evaluating teaching candidates—a good list to consider for other vocations as well:

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