The first thing to remember is that the reader of your letter will likely have numerous reference letters to review other than the one you are writing. They are usually very busy individuals who have a limited amount of time to devote to each letter they receive. It is important that your letter really stand out in order to grab their attention.
In addition to the reference letter, a hiring manager will also have the job applicant’s resume, and the faculty or admissions reader will have the college applicant’s transcripts and test scores. All of the readers will also have the opportunity to interview the applicants in person.
With all this information already in the reader’s possession, what could a reference letter possibly provide them with that they do not already have? Remember that one of the main purposes of a reference letter is to provide third party verification that what the applicant has indicated in the other pieces of information can be verified by someone. Simply put, a well written reference letter will add a great deal of credibility to what the applicant has already indicated.
What the readers are looking for in the reference letter are four additional dynamics that only a reference letter can provide. The reader is specifically looking for:
1. A sense that you know the applicant well enough to be able to make sound judgments about them. As the reader is reviewing your letter, they will be asking themselves these questions about you the writer:
- What is your expertise?
- How important are you?
- How relevant is your background to the recommendation you are making?
2. The sense that your credentials are worthy of consideration given the context for which the applicant is applying. The reader needs to feel that what you say in your letter is believable and worth listening to. The reader needs to know these things:
- Are you the applicant’s supervisor, professor, co-worker?
- How long have you been in a position to be able to judge the applicant’s talents, skills, abilities, attributes, and performance?
3. A sense of your overall opinion of the applicant. Is your letter positive, negative, lukewarm, or something in between? If you feel anything less than positive, it will come through loud and clear when you write your letter. Words have a way of conveying feelings, so be certain you can vouch for the applicant in a positive manner.
4. Insight into the applicant’s personal attributes. These personal insights are intangibles in that they usually cannot be obtained from a resume or transcript and sometimes not even from a personal interview with the applicant.
In an Employment Recommendation Letter, examples of personal attributes to include are:
- Are they responsible?
- Are they hard working and dedicated?
- Do they have leadership potential?
- Are they punctual and reliable?
- Do they communicate well?
- Are they a team player?
- Are they good at solving problems?
- Do they possess honesty and integrity?
- Are they flexible and adaptable?
- How well do they handle pressure?
In an Academic Recommendation Letter, examples of personal attributes to include are:
- Are they committed to the field they are considering?
- Are they serious about their studies?
- Do they have the potential to complete courses in higher education?
- Are they well rounded?
- Are they confident about succeeding?
- Do they value higher education?
- How do they interact with their peers and educators?
In a Character Reference Letter, examples of personal attributes to include are:
- Are they responsible?
- Do they demonstrate self control?
- Are they honest?
- Are they caring and kind to others?
- Do they have good social skills?
- Are they dependable?
- Are they reliable?
- Are they self reliant?
- Are they mature?
- Do they exhibit sound judgment?
If you include all four of these underlying dynamics when writing your recommendation letters and make them distinctly recognizable, you will have accomplished a great deal!
You will be providing the reader with a complete, distinct “picture” of the applicant and why they should be seriously considered!
“Writing a Great reference letter can be a lot of work but it is also very rewarding to know that you have helped someone you know and care about to achieve their goals.”