Tips on writing a reference letter

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From a legal point of view, and according to some lawyers, reference letters are a relic of the past, they should not be required for employment, and even more so as a mandatory requirement for obtaining the desired position, but the practice of employment shows that employers still ask for the applicant’s recommendations from the former place of work or study.

What functions does a reference letter (letter of recommendation) actually have? In fact, the role of letters of recommendation is nothing more than an appendix to a resume, which greatly increases the chances of finding a job.

Let’s turn to the concept of the letter of recommendation and understand what it is. This is a characteristic that is compiled in a free form, where the professional qualities of a person in search of work are fully disclosed. A reference letter is drawn up at the place of instruction of the person or his previous work. Its task is to reflect the qualities of the applicant, important in the employment. This information should be confirmed either by an educational institution, or a former employer. There is no standard sample for a letter of recommendation, although there are approximate forms of writing a reference letter that reflect the personal and professional qualities of a person.

Format and style of the letter of recommendation

This document is recommended to be based on the generally accepted rules for writing business letters, and such paper is only informative. Here is a number of rules when writing a recommendation letter:
  • Use of business style
  • Compliance with the requirements when addressing a person: partner, you, colleague or employee
  • The absence of artistic phrases in the text, which are used to decorate the narrative and do not bear any semantic meaning
  • The document must be certified by the signature of the person who filled it
  • The compiler of the recommendation letter should also be indicated

How to write a reference letter

When writing a reference letter, it should be noted that it should contain the following elements:
  • Personal and contact information of the recommender (name, company name, position, telephone number, and e-mail address)
  • Personal data (full name) of the candidate, the position in which he worked, the duration of the work (for example, John has worked in the company in the position of.... in the period from... to...)
  • A brief description of job responsibilities
  • The description of significant achievements (for example, during his work in the company, John has proved to be a highly qualified specialist. Among his main achievements are increase in the revenue, establishing..., removing..., launching... etc.)
  • A brief personal characteristic (John is distinguished by his excellent communication skills, goodwill, the ability to build effective relationships, adherence to principles, etc.)
  • The indication of the reasons for leaving the company (optional), the expression of regret in this regard (optional), the expression of confidence in the further productive career and the development of a specialist in a new place
The recommendation received from the client may look similar. Here is its scheme:
  • Personal and contact information of the recommender (name, company name, position, telephone number, e-mail address)
  • Personal data of the specialist, his position in the company, and the period of cooperation with the adviser
  • A range of issues for which the specialist in the field of cooperation was responsible
  • His professional achievements in the framework of cooperation, characterization as a person
  • A traditional final paragraph with regret that the specialist is leaving, and the wish for further success

Applying for a signature or agreeing on the provision of a contact phone, ask a counselor to answer if the representative of the company you are applying for will call to get more information about you. This is not a conspiracy, but quite a normal discussion because at the time of such a call a person may not be ready to talk, busy with work, affairs and, accordingly, forget to mention something significant.

Legislation does not oblige employers to give recommendations to dismissed employees, especially if the specialist had strained relations with someone from colleagues or managers, they can refuse to provide this document. Quickly build relationships that couldn’t have been built for a long time working in the company is unlikely to work, so it’s better to turn to those who can positively respond about the professional and personal qualities of a specialist.

Example of a reference letter

Recall the fact that the recommendation letter is drawn up at the previous place of work or study, and there is no standard sample when writing it. But if you consider the question in general terms, then the sample of the letter of recommendation will have the following structure:
  • Fill the upper right corner: here you specify the employer’s name and institution where you want to get the desired vacancy, or you write the phrase “for presentation at the place of demand” if the applicant is in search of work.
  • In the middle at the top of the sheet (just below the right block), you write the title “Reference Letter”.
  • The next block is the main text of the letter, and it may look something like this: “I, Robert R. Jones, in the period from April 20, 2015 to March 15, 2017, was the head director of John Shane Cooper. In this period, John Cooper was the chief accountant of the financial department. His job duties included calculating salary for the employees and compiling annual financial statements. Occupying the indicated post, John repeatedly was sent to refresher courses and seminars to familiarize with innovations in tax legislation. He excellently managed with the studies, mastering the necessary skills for work. For the period of work in Business Project, he was repeatedly encouraged by letters and prizes for high results of labor activity. He showed himself from the positive side, not conflict, sociable, and friendly with colleagues. He has a number of achievements, such as “The best accountant of the department”.
  • After the main part of the letter of recommendation, there is a place to indicate the reasons for which the applicant left his previous job.
  • The last block is designed to ensure that the employer from the previous place of work gave a subjective evaluation of the professional qualities of the former employee. Here an opinion is expressed about how the applicant worked, what qualities he showed, and other useful information was provided. The end of the letter is compiled on the basis of the following principle: “Based on the above facts, and assessing personally the professional qualities of John Cooper, I note his readiness to perform similar duties at a new place of work because of his full correspondence to his previous position. We wish John successes and advancement on a career ladder, perfection in the chosen direction and professional growth.
  • The entire text of the letter of recommendation must be certified by the signature of the official who compiled it. Also, the date should be included.

How and who certified the reference letter

The immediate supervisor of the employee should certify the recommendation letter. It can be the head of the structural unit, department or branch. To date, such powers are being gradually transferred to the personnel departments, due to the expansion of their powers, in particular to personnel managers.

If the job seeker is a student, then a letter of recommendation must be signed by the dean, the head of the department and, at the very least, the rector, which is rare. In the case when the student was studying at advanced training courses or attended the preparatory courses, it is the course leader who is the presenter of the letter of recommendation, who also puts his signature on paper.

When writing a reference letter, it is best to write it on the company letterhead.

A trump card

But simply getting a recommendation letter is not enough – you need to use it in time. After all, if talking about it prematurely, it may look as if the applicant seeks to hide something, and if time is spent, there may not be a suitable opportunity.

It’s not recommended to send a letter of recommendation along with a resume – this can raise questions and doubts among recruiters and create the feeling that the candidate justifies himself in advance and is looking for support from outside. It’s better to send a letter on demand or already at an advanced stage of negotiations. It is certainly useful to have an electronic copy of the letter, but sending it along with the resume is premature. It is enough to emphasize the readiness to provide recommendations in one form or another at the request of a potential employer.

It is also important to have contact information of those who have written your letter and obtain their consent to be given to the future employer. For example, if confirmation of the letter of authenticity is required or additional questions arise. When finding a job with a foreign company it is important to study and observe the norms of the country to which this firm belongs.

Formatting the reference letter

A good letter of recommendation must be individual, concrete, and convincing. The author must demonstrate a sincere conviction that the recommended one has the necessary professional and personal qualities and is capable of further academic and research work or is worthy of participation in any program. In support of his conclusions, he should bring concrete successes and achievements of the recommended, indicate the individual abilities of the candidate, and then demonstrate their compliance with the program, which the recommended person applies for.

The size of the recommendation is generally not regulated and can be on average between 300 and 1,000 words. In the upper part of the sheet are the surname, name and patronymic of the adviser, his position, the name of the organization, its address, telephone number. You can also specify the university, its address, the name of the faculty, and the program where you’re supposed to send this letter.

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