When there is a need to make applications more outstanding, whether for a job, scholarship, or promotion, having a reference letter will make it more solid and will help increase chances of getting picked. To make a reference letter effective, it should talk about the applicant’s credentials, achievement, as well as character. It gives a different perspective about the applicant since it is written by an outside source. Choice of words matters the most since it may make or break the applicant’s chances. This gives an overview of what makes the applicant qualified, so a well-written one is very important.
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What Is a Reference Letter?
A reference letter is a letter that is usually written to attest to an applicant’s skills, character, and achievements. It assesses all of the credentials of an applicant in detail. They are usually used for purposes related to academic such as admissions and scholarships, and employment as an application requirement. These letters are used to gauge whether the applicant is eligible to be granted whatever it is he/she has applied for. These are written specifically when it has been requested. It is also referred to as a recommendation letter.
When Should a Reference Letter Be Used?
As mentioned, these letters are commonly used for job and academic-related purposes. However, a wide variety of situations makes use of reference letters. The most common situations where a reference letter might be used are the following:
- job applications where there is a need for an applicant to have more support for their application;
- it might be requested by the recruiter as part of the preemployment requirements before the contract signing;
- a student who aspires to be a part of a prestigious university or college, or wants to take up a specific academic course;
- companies/organizations make use of reference letters as an attestation to the trustworthiness and capabilities of an applicant; or
- a prospective tenant may be asked to provide a reference letter from their previous landlord in order to have proof of good rent history and excellent financial standing.
Who Are Qualified to Write a Reference Letter?
A reference letter is considered to be a crucial document. This is why in cases where you might be asked to write one, ensure that you are qualified to write one that can honestly attest to the qualifications of the applicant. Put into consideration the following when someone asks for a reference letter from you.
- Make sure that you know the candidate very well. For example, if you are a teacher asked to write a reference letter for a student, apart from his academic standing in class, you should also be able to discuss the student’s characteristics and involvement in school.
- You should also know the person to an extent that would allow you to write a meaningful reference. This goes for people you have worked with who are applying for a new job opportunity or is required to submit a reference letter. Aside from his/her productivity at work, you should be able to talk about whether he/she is able to go the extra mile to achieve the goals or targets for the day.
- You should have the capacity to write a positive and truthful reference letter. You need not accept a request for writing a reference letter should you feel that the requesting party has no good qualities to be highlighted. Just politely ask the requesting party to ask someone else to write the reference letter. Remember that the end goal of writing a reference letter is to make the applicant stand out from the other applicants.
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Tips in Writing a Reference Letter
Once you feel that you are confident enough and have the qualifications to write a reference letter, you are now ready to start writing one. Here, we give a step-by-step guide on what you can do before you write your letter.
- The very first thing needed to be done is to ask for a copy of the applicant’s resume (if for employment), application form (if for a scholarship or school admission), or proof of good rent history (if for a prospect tenant). These documents will serve as your guide to describing the applicant. You may also ask for information about the purpose of the application.
- Keep the letter brief and concise. You should be able to focus on all the strong and excellent points of the applicant. Do not make your letter too short (one to two paragraphs) as this may suggest that you do not know the person that well, but do not go overboard by writing more than one page. Reflect on all of his/her strong points and credentials, and incorporate all of these in the letter.
- This letter is considered to be a business letter, so be sure to follow a business letter format. The space between the paragraphs should only be single, margins should be at 1″ per side, and it should also be aligned to the left. Fonts to use should also be the traditional ones such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri, and the font size should be between 10 to 12 points.
- Be careful with your choice of words. Determine the facts that you need to include and the facts that you might want to leave out.
Formatting a Reference Letter
There is no fixed way of how you should write a reference letter as it may slightly vary for the purpose as to why you need to write one. However, all reference letter will have almost the same basic outline.
- Since this is a business letter, your reference letter should start with both the writer and recipient’s contact information followed by the date the letter was written.
- Always begin with a greeting such as “Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. [Last Name]. If in any case you do not know the name of the recipient, you may write “Dear [Recipient’s Title].” Remember though that it will always be best to know the name of the recipient as it gives a more personal touch to it.
- The first couple of lines in your letter should establish what your relationship with the applicant is. Include details about the extent of how you know the applicant and what makes you a qualified individual to write the letter.
- The next paragraph will talk about the applicant. This is where details about his/her credentials and other qualities will be discussed including your own discussion as to why the applicant is qualified and how they can contribute.
- The next few paragraphs will explain why you are confident that the applicant will excel and give out concrete examples when the applicant has shown excellence in his/her duties.
- Remember to close your letter on a positive note. Offer to answer any further questions they might have about the candidate.
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Types of Reference Letters
Reference letters are used for a variety of purposes. However, there are three main categories when it comes to reference letters: (1) employment reference letters, (2) academic reference letters, and (3) character reference letters. Each of these types is intended for different kinds of circumstances. They may vary in purpose but they have multiple characteristics that are similar. The main goal of each type of reference letter is to effectively communicate to the reader the individual’s qualifications and character. These letters are typically requested as a form of verification of the credentials of an individual as well as give more confidence in his/her application. Whatever the type of reference letter you are writing, ensure that you follow all the tips we have enumerated. Always remember that the specific end goal of you reference letter is to make the applicant stand out from the rest.
Below, we give you a brief description of each type of the most common reference letters used nowadays.
- Employment Reference Letters
These letters are usually utilized by individuals who are seeking a new job opportunity. It is typically written by someone who is in a position and knows about the job applicant’s skills, work ethic, and other relevant traits that may be deemed as relatable to the job that the applicant has applied for. Former employees, managers, supervisors, team leaders, and even colleagues can write a reference letter for employment. For job applicants who have multiple work experiences may be asked to prepare two to three reference letters.
- Academic Reference Letters
An academic reference letter may be used for a variety of purposes that may be related to academics such as internships, college/university admissions, or scholarships. This type of reference letter will provide the recipient information about the applicant that may not be found in the application forms or application letters, which include academic achievements and personal details. These are typically written by teachers, principals, deans, and other people in the academe that may be considered as qualified to write one. A student applicant may be asked to have at least one but preferably two or three.
- Character Reference Letters
A character reference letter is used for circumstances that involve adoption, housing accommodations such as rent, and other situations that may call for a reference for the character and personality of the individual. These are usually written by former landlords, employers, associates, acquaintances, work colleagues, friends, family members, etc. The person who is qualified a character reference depends on the reason that the reference letter will be used for.
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