Why Do I Need a Reference or Recommendation Letter?

Why do I Need a Reference LetterWhy Do You Need a Reference or Recommendation Letter?

The answer to this question is quite simple. A great reference letter can mean the difference between you being accepted or rejected.

A Great reference letter can help land that perfect job, receive that well deserved promotion, or to gain admission into your dream college or university. Or perhaps you need a place to stay, like that great apartment a few blocks away from your work.

Regardless of your pursuit, you need to understand that what you say is important…….but what someone else says about you is even MORE important. When you can offer third party proof that you are who you say you are, the person making the decision regarding your future now has proof that you are worthy of consideration.

Good Luck!

Lyle MacPherson

How to Write a Great Reference Letter

The Confusion Around Reference Letters

The Confusion Around Reference LettersI recently needed to write a Court Character Reference Letter for a young man very close to me, who had gotten in trouble with the law. I went to the Internet in search of some information to help me write my letter. I was blown away at how little information there was on the subject. With so little information available regarding this subject, it is easy to see why there is a great deal of confusion about the many different types of reference letters.

Reference letters are often referred to in many different ways, including the following:

  • Recommendation Letters
  • Letters of Recommendation
  • Reference Letters
  • Letters of Reference
  • Commendation Letters
  • Performance Evaluation Letters

So what’s the Problem?

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Is it OK to Write My Own Reference Letter or Recommendation Letter?

Is it OK for me to Write my Own Reference Letter?The person determining whether you are worthy of your desired goal will get information from you by some kind of interview with you. But, as is often the case, we can’t take everyone at face value – and this is where your need for a reference from a third party comes in.

A great reference letter or recommendation letter supplies third-party proof that you are who you say that you are and that you are therefore worthy of serious consideration. You need someone else to back up your story! What you REALLY need is someone else’s signature on the letter other than your own.

You may, however, be asked to provide some, or even all of the “content” of the letter yourself. In this situation, you will be the one putting the words on the page for someone else’s signature. This is often the case when the person asked to provide a reference letter for you is not good with words, not good at writing a professional letter or simply doesn’t have the time to sit down and think of the many glowing things to say about you! This person, however, has agreed to vouch for what you say by putting their name and signature at the bottom of the letter.

Writing a Great Reference Letter can easily take several hours. For this reason, it not unusual for a Manager or Professor to ask you to write a good portion of the letter that they will later be happy to review, edit and sign for you.

If you must write your own reference letter due to the circumstances I just mentioned, keep the following important points in mind during the writing process:

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Reference Letter Definitions

Reference Letter DefinitionsWhen it comes right down to it there are 3 types of Reference Letters:

Employment Recommendation Letters

An Employment Recommendation Letter is written specifically to help someone obtain employment. 0

Academic Recommendation Letters

An Academic Recommendation Letter is written specifically for someone who is seeking entry into undergraduate and/or graduate programs at a college or university, or for someone about to receive a scholarship or fellowship.

Character Reference Letters

Also referred to as a “Personal Reference Letters” or “Personal Recommendation Letters,” a Character Reference Letter should illustrate an individual’s most positive personal attributes. This type of reference letter is most often used for important, non-employment and non-academic related pursuits.

Good Luck!

Lyle MacPherson

How to Write a Great Reference Letter

How Do I Ask Someone to Write a Reference Letter for Me?

How do I ask Someone to Write a Reference Letter for Me?When considering asking someone to write a reference letter for you, take some time to think carefully about both the reader of the letter and your relationship with the writer of the letter.

Who you will ask will depend on the type of letter you require, which I will cover in more detail later in this book, but in general, you need to consider these basic guidelines.

Who Should I Ask to Write the Letter for Me?

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What If I Have Been Asked to Write a Reference Letter?

What if I have been Asked to Write a Reference LetterSo, what do you do if the tables are suddenly turned? Someday, or maybe already, someone may ask you to write a reference letter on their behalf.

A Great Reference Letter can mean the difference between the applicant or candidate being accepted or rejected. This one simple, yet critical fact means that you need to be 100% sure that you are the best person to write this reference letter.

If you have been asked to write a reference letter for someone, you should ask them to let you think about it for a few hours or overnight before you answer them. This is obviously an important letter and both you and the one requesting the letter want to be sure you are the best on to be writing it.

There are five basic questions that you need to ask yourself before you agree to perform this important task:

  1. Do I have the time to write a great reference letter?
  2. Do I honestly feel comfortable writing a reference letter for this person?
  3. Am I truly the right person to compose a reference letter for this person?
  4. Do I know the person well enough to discuss his or her strengths and accomplishments?
  5. Can I honestly write positive things about the person who has requested the reference letter?

If you cannot answer “yes” to most or all of these questions, you should bow out gracefully right from the beginning. A reference letter is designed to make someone look good to another person who is in a position of influence. If you feel that you cannot honestly paint a good picture of the person, you will be doing them a disservice by agreeing to write the letter.

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What Steps Can you Take to Ensure that you will Write the Best Reference Letter Possible?

The first thing you should do is meet with the individual and have a brainstorming session. Get a good idea of the exact purpose of the letter and who the recipients and ultimate decision makers will be. This will help you understand the tone and style you need to employ when writing the reference letter and it will also allow you to know the pertinent information required to be included in the specific situation, as well as “what to leave out.”

Your brainstorming session should be quite extensive. You and the person you are writing the reference letter for cannot afford to make a mistake or say the wrong or inappropriate thing. Ask questions about their goals and aspirations. You need to know what they are specifically trying to accomplish so that you can then direct your comments specifically to those goals.

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Put Yourself in the Reader’s Shoes

Put Yourself in the Readers ShoesThe 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:

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General Layout of any Reference Letter


The opening should consist of two brief paragraphs. The purpose of the opening is to indicate your initial recommendation about the applicant and to explain who you are and how you know the person for who you’re writing the reference letter.

The first paragraph (usually consisting of a single sentence) should state the purpose of the letter. Referred to as the “opening line”, you would simply state that you are providing a recommendation for the applicant.

Choose your words carefully, particularly at the beginning of the letter. The all important first sentence will set the tone for the remainder of the letter.

The opening is often the most important part of the entire letter. When you consider that the reader is a busy individual with many different letters, resumes, and transcripts to review, it is safe to assume that they will not devote much time to reading each and every reference letter from beginning to end. As such, then, the very first impression they get is critical and often lasting. Given this, it becomes quite clear that your overall opinion of the applicant must be made very early in the letter. A great reference letter should always communicate most, if not all, of your honest, overall opinions in the first sentences or two.

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Tips for Writing any Reference Letter


Always, always type your reference letter. Even if your handwriting is as elegant as a calligrapher’s, never submit a hand-written reference letter. A reference letter casts a reflection on both the writer and the applicant. A typed document always expresses a more professional look and feel, and will be taken much more seriously by the reader or decision maker.

“First impressions are important! Get off to a Great start by submitting a professional looking reference letter. It will make a difference!”

The physical appearance of your letter is so important that it may determine whether your letter even gets read by the recipient.

Always print the letter on good-quality, white paper and on a laser printer if at all possible. Make it crisp, clean, and professional. You may have spent hours filling the letter with excellent content, but if the letter does not have a professionally look, it may just end up in the garbage can.

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