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9 Key Elements of a Good Reference Letter

reference letterReference letters and recommendation letters are a major component of a successful job search.  Every job seeker knows that in addition to their own ability to sell job skills and qualifications, they also will need support from qualified people who are willing to support their candidacy.  To draft a good reference letter for a job seeker, these nine components must be included.

Write a good reference letter

  1. Stay positive, honest and personal.  Use personal stories or observations about your work experiences with the job seeker.  Of course objective facts are important, but they must be balanced with personal reflections about the candidate.
  2. Qualify yourself early in every reference letter you write.  Say what qualifies you to give such a reference and testament to the caliber employee this job seeker would be.  Be sure to write about when you met and how long you have known the job seeker.
  3. State the nature of relationship you have had with the job seeker.  Were you a boss, a mentor, a colleague or a peer? What was the chain of command? Did you report to them? Did they report to you? Were you on a project team together?  Many people make the mistake of thinking that they can only ask people who were senior to them for reference letters.
  4. State why the opportunity to support this job seeker excites you and say how you feel about being asked to write this reference letter.
  5. Identify which 2 or 3 specific behaviors and qualities which, in your opinion, are most meaningful to the employer.  Be sure to use key words and phrases that show the job seeker as someone who is always willing to go above and beyond, is reliable and dedicated who influences others positively, demonstrates exemplary behavior and achieves outstanding outcomes.
  6. Why would the job seeker be a good fit for the organization in question?  How could they bring value to the bottom line?  Here is your opportunity to write about specific job skills that would be of value to the company.  You could identify a past work experience with the job seeker that would be a specific example of the type of contribution the job seeker could make.
  7. Write about your willingness to work with the job seeker again.
  8. Share your availability for follow up.  Let the employer know how to contact you directly in order to follow up.
  9. When writing a reference letter, it is not the time to err on the side of brevity.  Be superfluous and be long winded. Be relevant.

I published this article back in 2008 when I owned BullsEyeResumes.  Also published it at Beyond.com.  The comments from readers over the years have added additional tips.

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