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How to write a great reference

Published about 6 years ago by Elkie Holland

[Image credit -Flickr]


Congratulations. You’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation for an employee or colleague. This person values your opinion of him or her, and you’d be glad to help them advance. The problem is you’re unsure of what to say or how to say it! Here are four tips to keep in mind when preparing your recommendation. 

1. Ask the employee about the new position they are applying for. What types of job duties are involved? What sort of characteristics are they looking for in a good employee? In your letter, describe certain instances where this employee or colleague really shined – such as staying late to complete a mission-critical project, working diligently to help a customer make a product decision, providing thorough technical support or service, and so on. These specific situations have more effect on the person doing the hiring than general run-of-the-mill phrases like “terrific manager”, “enthusiastic worker” and so on. 

2. Use powerful statements that really show your depth of knowledge about the person. A description like “X is a keen observer who knows how to make customers act and is there with them every step of the way if they are hesitant or have questions” gives a true, in-depth knowledge of the person in a way that a casual letter may not. 

3. Print off five letters of reference on company stationery and give them to the recipient. This gives your colleague or co-worker additional letters for any other positions that he or she may be applying for in the future, and saves you from having to write them if the request comes around again! If you know it, put the address of the company to whom the letter is being sent, as well as the name of the person in Human Resources who will be collecting and organizing these reference letters. A personalized greeting is far better than a general “To Whom It May Concern” salutation. For the other four copies, leave the address area blank so that the employee can use them for other job opportunities that arise. 

4. If you’re really stuck on what to write, or simply don’t have time, ask the person requesting the reference to write a letter about themselves in their own words and you’ll sign it for them. This is a great time-saver and a perfect idea if you’re struggling to put the right words on paper. 

If you keep these four tips in mind, writing a letter of recommendation will not only come easier to you, but it will let the person receiving the letter know how much you value them as an employee or colleague, and will help them feel more confident when they move on to the next step – the interview. Good luck! 

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