What is the Difference between Recommendation Letters and Reference Letters

Difference Between Reference Letter and Recommendation LetterThe term “Recommendation Letter” is often used interchangeably with the term “Reference Letter”; however, there is a distinct difference between the two types of letters.

Although both types of letters are primarily used to introduce a person and vouch for his or her skills, abilities, integrity, character, and interests, the difference between the two is significant.

A recommendation letter usually contains information specific to the person applying for a job or for entrance into college or university. The information is more specifically related to skills, and qualifications.

A recommendation letter is more specific and usually for the purpose of obtaining employment or admission to advanced education. The information is more related to skills and abilities than it is to personal characteristics.

A reference letter is usually more general in nature and refers more to the overall character of a person. The information is more related to an individual’s personality and character than it is to their skills and abilities.

Definition of a Recommendation Letter

A “Recommendation Letter” or “Letter of Recommendation” is a letter in which the writer assesses the qualifications, skills, abilities, interests, and capabilities of the person being recommended in terms of that individual’s ability to perform a particular task or function.

“Recommendation Letters” are almost always requested by someone, and are therefore normally specifically addressed to that particular requester. Recommendation letters are typically related to employment, college admissions, or scholarship eligibility.

Definition of a Reference Letter

A “Reference Letter” or “Letter of Reference” is a letter in which the writer makes a general assessment of the qualities, interests, attitude, integrity, community involvement, and personal characteristics of a person.

Reference letters are typically used in situations where an individual’s character is being assessed. A reference letter also confirms details about an individual’s situation or circumstances.

Reference letters are general in nature and usually addressed to “Whom It May Concern”. If the name of the recipient is known, you should address the letter to that person specifically.

Good Luck!

Lyle MacPherson

How to Write a Great Reference Letter

3 thoughts on “What is the Difference between Recommendation Letters and Reference Letters

  1. This was just what I needed. I have a child applying for college scholarships and we didn’t understand the difference between the 2 types of letters. Thank you.

  2. I have received a letter of recommendation from a client, how and when do I present this to a potential employer? As a separate letter or can I include this as part of a list of references (seems tacky). My other thought was to just list this person as a reference. Thanks

    • Scott, there are two common thoughts. You can either send it with your resume, or wait until the interview and present it if you are asked for one.

      My opinion….. If it’s a good reference letter, send it with your resume. Don’t risk not being asked for one in your interview.

      I would also list that person as a reference. Always ask for their permission before you use them as a reference.

      Good Luck!

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