Place Holder Banner

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.

Posted in Career Tools, Resume Writing | Tagged | Comments Off on 9 Key Elements of a Good Reference Letter

8 Things To Do NOW Before You Study Abroad (Part 2)

study abroadAs you read this you may be back on campus ankle deep in the semester, or enrolled in a class or two considering your next step.  Whatever your status, now is the time to prepare for your study abroad experience.  Last month we explored 4 steps to get you started in the process and here, we’ll explore the next 4 steps.

Attend a Study Abroad Fair

Most campuses will be sprinkled with activity and organizational fairs of all kinds during the first weeks of the semester.  Attending the study abroad fair is the simplest thing you could do toward your quest to learn in another country; though, as simple as it is, probably less than 50% of students actually attend the fair.

The study abroad fair is a great way to get to know what your campus offers, who the study abroad staff members are, as well as mingle with other students who may be considering the same things as you.  Not only can you gather brochures and materials that outline your options, but you can also ask questions (about courses, country options, financing, etc.) in a pressure-free environment.

If your campus doesn’t hold a study abroad fair (or if you missed it), most have a staff-person/office dedicated to international education with whom you can make an appointment.  The office may also have alternatives available for you to consider (internships abroad, volunteering, etc.)  It is critical to establish connection with the office early on so that they can keep you in mind when opportunities, scholarships or otherwise, arise.

Study Abroad Checklist

After you’ve met with the study abroad staff on your campus and have done your homework, make a running check-list of what you’ll need to do – yourself – to go abroad.  For instance, do you need certain immunizations, a visa (not the credit card), will your health insurance cover you, etc.  The list you create is not meant to overwhelm you, rather, help you to be better prepared so that you don’t get left behind.

Paying for Study Abroad $$$$

Cost is usually the top reason that students do not study abroad.  Financing study abroad does not need to be prohibitive; many times the tuition you pay now can cover a portion (if not all) of your studies overseas.  Though, if you start early, you will find there are a ton of scholarships and grants for you to apply to (i.e. the Institute of International Education offers the Gilman Scholarship.) A full article on financing will be posted soon.

Believe You Can

Believe it or not, one of the most important things you can do to prepare yourself for successful study abroad experience begins with your mind.  If you are confident and believe that you can do it, chances are you will. Whether there are financial obstacles, family restrictions or fear of the unknown – the only way to begin to get past that is to make up your mind and believe that you can.  Your reality will follow.

J.Renay Loper, Speaker and Writer about Studying AbroadArticles by J.Renay Loper, global education professional writer and speaker based in New York City. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or send questions on studying abroad to us at thehbcucareercenter@yahoo.com and we will make sure Ms. Loper gets your questions.

Want more career stuff like this? Subscribe to The HBCU Career Center blog feed
Connect on Twitter and Facebook!
Posted in Study Abroad | Tagged | Comments Off on 8 Things To Do NOW Before You Study Abroad (Part 2)

What STEM Resumes Should Include

STEM resumesThere is no one way to write a good college resume. Visit any college career center and you can typically find hundreds of sample college resumes that any student can use. Although there are differences in layout and style, all good college resumes include certain basic items like contact information, education and professional experience. Depending on your college major though, there might be some specific sections of a college resume of greater interest for some hiring managers.

One group of college students that is very attractive to hiring managers are students who are in STEM majors. STEM is an acronym meaning Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. If you are a college student in a STEM major here are a few specific tips on what STEM resumes should include.


The projects included in STEM resumes should be non-trivial and beyond the textbook. When writing about projects, include any specific lab equipment, processes or outcomes from STEM projects. In addition to the lab skills, mention any project work in teams with other college students or professors.


STEM resumes must include information on any research partnerships with faculty on significant research. This research involvement is great content for college resumes from STEM students. Include research experiences, on or off campus, poster presentations, grant writing support or research methodologies.


STEM resumes must include internships and co-ops experiences regardless of major. For STEM majors, this experiential involvement could be the competitive advantage that one college student has over another. Employers want to see that STEM majors are not just interested in their college coursework, but have also been involved in the practical applications of their studies in real work environments.


College students with STEM majors considering graduate school, should use summers to participate in academic fellowships at research universities. For example, the Duke University Institute for Genome Sciences and Policies (IGSP) is open to college undergraduates, even freshman and sophomores, with an interest in this genome sciences.

College students with majors in STEM disciplines are going to continue to be in demand in the 21st century. To stay competitive, college students need to have strong STEM resumes with evidence of research, projects, internships, co-ops and academic fellowships.

Originally written by Marcia Robinson in 2007.

Want more career stuff like this? Subscribe to The HBCU Career Center blog feed
Connect on Twitter and Facebook!
Posted in Resume Writing, STEM Careers | Tagged , | Comments Off on What STEM Resumes Should Include

Biggest Resume Mistakes

resume mistakes…and he should know.  Laszlo Bock is the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google.  He reads a LOT of resumes and decided to share this list of biggest resume mistakes he sees.

Of course, there is no surprise that certain things will always end up on any list of resume mistakes.  The basics identified by Bock are typos, errors, formatting and lies.  One other resume mistake struck me and I wanted to share it specifically.

Confidential information

Here is what Bock had to say, “I once received a resume from an applicant working at a top-three consulting firm. This firm had a strict confidentiality policy: client names were never to be shared. On the resume, the candidate wrote: “Consulted to a major software company in Redmond, Washington.” Rejected! There’s an inherent conflict between your employer’s needs (keep business secrets confidential) and your needs (show how awesome I am so I can get a better job). So candidates often find ways to honor the letter of their confidentiality agreements but not the spirit. It’s a mistake.”

Bock’s point is that even though the job seeker did not mention Microsoft specifically, everyone knows which major software company is in Redmond Washington.  Bock also shared that in a quick survey, they found that 5-10% of applicants were sharing  confidential information on their resumes.

The lesson here?  Put yourself in the employers shoe.  Don’t you think he would believe that you will share his company’s secrets too?  In business when success requires you be a first-mover in the market, protecting confidential information is key.

Be careful what you share!  By the way, it could cost you more than the potential job if you disclosing proprietary information is one of the resume mistakes for which you get busted.

Read Bock’s article here.

Other resume stuff!

Want more career stuff like this? Subscribe to The HBCU Career Center blog feed
Connect on Twitter and Facebook!



Posted in Job Search Tips, Resume Writing | Tagged , | Comments Off on Biggest Resume Mistakes

Johnson C. Smith University Gets BOSS Magazine

BOSS Magazine Johnson C. SmithOur first subscription of B.O.S.S. eMag is enroute to Tracy Foster in the A.C.E. Advising Center at Johnson C. Smith University!

Ms. Foster is a 2002 graduate of Claflin University.  She was an English major in college and now works with undecided freshmen at JCSU.

Here is what Tracy said when she applied for one of our 10 scholarships to cover subscription to B.O.S.S. Magazine: “I realize how important RESEARCHING and PLANNING for your career is. I also impress upon my students that it’s not solely about the salary–they must choose a career/major in which they are skilled, which they enjoy, and which they can reasonably predict upward mobility and/or industry growth. With that being said, is it possible to receive The HBCU Career Center subscription at The A.C.E. Advising Center at Johnson C. Smith University? Thank you for extending this gracious opportunity to all HBCU alumni!”

It’s our pleasure Tracy.  Please watch for your first issue in about 6 weeks.

For more career advice and workplace stuff follow us on Twitter or Facebook!

Want more career stuff like this? Subscribe to The HBCU Career Center blog feed

Posted in Career Advice, Career Tools, College Life | Tagged | Comments Off on Johnson C. Smith University Gets BOSS Magazine

I Need a Mentor

need a mentorWhenever I think about developing a relationship with a mentor, I think to myself, “Hind sight is always 20/20.”

My First Mentor

As a new college graduate, I was thrilled to accept an entry-level position at a large, global corporation.

This corporation offered many opportunities for advancement, which included the encouragement of finding a mentor from within.  I saw this chance to network with a mentor as golden.  My relationship with my self-selected mentor quickly grew.  We engaged in conversations of how other entry-level employees volunteered to participate in various projects and, as a result, were promoted to managerial positions.  She critiqued my job performance so I could improve.

My mentor was a supportive role-model.  So, I thought.  Our relationship turned for the worse when I disclosed to my mentor that another co-worker was extremely rude to me.  My co-worker would constantly speak with sarcasm and harshness during our conversations.

I explained to my mentor that I did not enjoy interacting with this co-worker and needed to address this issue.  Without my consent, my mentor immediately called my co-worker and unsympathetically demanded my co-worker to apologize to me over the telephone.  The apology came in a meek, shaky voice, not the voice of a mature woman.  I accepted the apology and returned to work.  My mentor was so proud of her actions.  She smiled from ear-to-ear for the remainder of the day.  But, I was so embarrassed because of my mentor’s inappropriate behavior. The punishment did not match the crime.

The issue with my co-worker needed to be resolved but not in that manner.  I was never able to look the co-worker in her face since the incident.  And, needless to say, my relationship with my mentor ended.

Why you need a Mentor?

The relationship of a mentee and mentor should be meaningful and resourceful.  And, the mentee plays a pivotal role in the development of this relationship by implementing the following steps:

The relationship of a mentee and mentor should be meaningful and resourceful.  And, the mentee plays a pivotal role in the development of this relationship by implementing the following steps:

Select a mentor who wants to participate in a mentee/mentor relationship.   Your mentor should be an experienced professional but not necessarily a professional within your field because some skill sets are universal to all professions and must be mastered regardless of your occupation.

Be clear in what you expect from the relationship.  Mentors can play many roles.  A mentor can expand your professional network.  A mentor assist with the development and implementation your professional growth plan.  A mentor can explain to you the unwritten rules of the work environment and culture.  Or, a mentor can solely provide professional advice on work issues and/or concerns.

Specify the amount of time you are willing to devote to the relationship and specify the amount of time you request your mentor to devote to the relationship.

A mentor should not be controlling.  The mentor should not demand that you follow his/her actions or advice.  The mentor should not violate the confidentiality that must be maintained in the relationship.

The mentee should not misuse the mentor’s name in order to obtain favors.  “If you do not do what I say, I will report you to (Name of Mentor).”  And, similar to the mentor, the mentee must maintain a code of confidentiality.

Over the years, I have developed more fruitful mentee/mentor relationships that truly added to my professional life.  The aforementioned relationship taught me what I should expect and what I should not tolerate, which was a lesson well learned.

Dorothy HandfieldDorothy C. Handfield is Founder/Owner of DCH Consulting Services, LLC.  As a Workforce Consultant, she assists job seekers to transform into highly qualified candidates who get and keep their dream jobs.  Follow: Twitter, Instagram @consultingdch and LinkedIn – Dorothy C. Handfield

Posted in New Grad | Tagged | Comments Off on I Need a Mentor

    If you would like your company to be showcased as a Featured Employer on our site, let us know by contacting thehbcucareercenter@yahoo.com:

    • Our mission at The HBCU Career Center is to be an advocate for America's diverse and often underrepresented students and alumni seeking career and professional success.
    • If you share our vision for diverse, inclusive workplaces and would like to connect with the diverse talent from America’s 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities, then consider becoming a Featured Employer on our site.
    • Become a Featured Employer by consistently sharing jobs and internships on our niche job board or by sharing your expert career advice for our readers on our blog.