If you're wondering how to write a reference letter, know there's one primary ingredient: sincerity. If someone has asked you for a reference, it's because they feel they can entrust you with a portion of their future. Your character reference, if handled with care, can help someone move on to one of the biggest chapters in their life. Let's break down the steps and then review an example of a great reference letter.
Whether you're writing a letter of reference for a former employee, a friend, a business associate, or a student, it's important to follow a standard formula. That is:
Explain how you know the candidate
Extol their virtues
Tie those virtues to the potential position
Offer an opportunity to speak further
With that in mind, let's break down each section in further detail.
The sender's address (i.e., your contact information) is typically already included in the letterhead at the top of the page.
If you're writing a letter to a company, organization, or committee, be sure to include their contact information first, left-justified. just below the letterhead. This is called the "inside address." It includes the organization's name and full address.
458 Sunny Drive
Lightdrive, TX, 38592
After that, skip a line and insert the full date (e.g., May 20, 2020).
If you have a direct contact, begin the letter by addressing them formally. It would look like this:
Dear Mr. Young:
If you do not have a direct contact, you can begin the letter with "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir/Madam" instead. In a professional letter, it's always best to forego a comma for a colon in the salutation.
In the introduction of your letter, explain your relationship to the candidate. Include how long you've known him or her and in what capacity. Make it clear you feel compelled to write this letter.
Be precise in the amount of time you've known the candidate and explain the position/title held by each of you. As you do so, mention the name of the company and/or position the candidate is applying for, if possible. For example:
I have known Jayda Goodman for over five years. She enrolled in all three of my Communications classes at Brooklyn University. I couldn't be more pleased to recommend her as a candidate for the Graduate Communications Degree Program at Stanford University.
Like an essay, the body of a reference letter contains the meat. This is your opportunity to highlight very specific attributes of the candidate. Mention their accountability, patience, support of others, ability to take on new tasks, and any other striking features.
After you highlight the candidate's strengths, explain how they will translate well to the new role. Make a distinct correlation between those attributes and how they will benefit the company or organization. Don't offer blanket accolades. Rather, link the candidate's attributes to the specific role he or she is being considered for.
In the final paragraph, extend an offer to be contacted. Supply your email address or phone number. Reassure the committee or company they'd be making the right decision if they select your candidate. For example:
Without question, Jayda will be a tremendous addition to your graduate degree program. She possesses the strong will and accountability to not only succeed in your program, but leave a lasting mark on Stanford University. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my anytime email@example.com 914-123-4567. I'd be delighted to speak with you further.
The valediction, also called the complimentary close, in a reference letter is standard to any other letter. You can sign off with well wishes, leave a space for your handwritten signature, and type your full name. If you're going to email the letter, a simple polite gesture and your name will suffice. For example:
See how to all the steps come together in this sample reference letter from a professor who'd like to recommend one of her students for a graduate degree program. Once you've read it, you can download an editable PDF of the letter below and change it to suit your needs.
Media & Communications Department
450 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305
May 20, 2020
Dear Dr. Wright:
I am writing to you on behalf of an exceptional student of mine, Abigail LeJeune. I'd like to highlight her incredible work ethic and advanced writing skills. During her time at Brooklyn University, Abigail enrolled in two of my Media and Communication Arts classes: Fundamentals of Communication and Writing for Electronic Media.
One thing I learned about Abigail is that she is committed to developing in-depth written and verbal communication skills. This strength was evidenced time and time again. Each week, students posted written work to our discussion board and Abigail consistently came in strong with keen insights and unique perspectives.
Abigail's work was grammatically precise and creative. What I personally enjoyed was the fact that she was so encouraging to her classmates. Abigail always had a kind word for her peers, bolstering their self-esteem.
Abigail will be a tremendous success in graduate school. Her communications skills will serve her well. Abigail's writing skills speak for themselves, paired with an incredibly strong work ethic. Any time she had a specific question about an assignment, she emailed me directly and replied to my instructions promptly. This exemplified one of the highest levels of accountability I've ever seen throughout my 12 years as a professor.
I hope you'll consider Abigail to be a suitable candidate for your degree program. She's as prepared for graduate-level work as any student can be. You will, most certainly, enjoy working with her. Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.
Professor Marie K. Kittelstad
Although our sample recommendation letter was for an admissions board, the standard format is the same. Explain your relationship. Describe accolades. Link those pats on the back to the task at hand - whether that's a degree program or a new job.
As long as you follow this standard format, your sincerity will shine through and, hopefully, catch the eye of the person in charge. With a strong reference letter, you can help someone expand to new heights. If your candidate is about to face a tough round of interviews, consider sharing these Smart Questions to Ask In an Interview to help them knock it out of the park.