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A Quick And Easy Guide To Writing Recommendation & Reference Letters

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By Aimee

Has someone recently asked you to write a reference letter for them?

With so many people trying to find work, or get financial aid to go to school, or get into school, you may be asked to write a letter of recommendation more times than you realize.


Writing a recommendation & reference letter is more straightforward and easy than you might think.

Here’s what you should include when writing a reference letter…


Types Of Reference Letters

Basically, there are 3 types of recommendation or reference letters:

  1. Employment reference
  2. Academic reference
  3. Character reference

Each is intended for use in different settings or circumstances, but all have several things in common. They are all carefully written, with the goal being to communicate information about a person’s skills and/or character.

Typically, they are intended to verify qualifications and qualities and ultimately build confidence in a person.


What To Include In A Reference Letter


Here are the top 3 things that your letter should contain:

  • How you know the person.
  • What the person did for you.
  • Why you are recommending the person

TIP: Be honest in your reference letter, since it reflects upon you as well as the candidate. You shouldn’t write a glowing reference of someone you don’t know well or don’t believe would be a good employee (or student, tenant, etc.)

That said, avoid being negative or bringing up faults or weakness. If you have strong doubts about a person’s candidacy, let them know that you’re not comfortable writing a reference.


Personal vs Professional Reference Letters

A personal letter of reference speaks to a person’s unique personal character. It is usually written by a person who knows the candidate on a very personal level — like a business acquaintance, customer or client, teacher, professor, or neighbor.

They usually offer insight on the person’s:

  • Integrity
  • Loyalty
  • Dependability

TIP: Most personal references are used when job applicants have little formal work experience, are seeking their first professional job or that may not have worked for a long period of time.


professional letter of reference speaks to a person’s performance on the job and is written by a current or former employer.

They provide insight on the person’s:

  • Work habits
  • Talents and skills
  • Reliability
  • Professionalism on the job
  • Value to an organization

TIP: It’s acceptable to provide letters from a wide variety of former employers. Each should provide a different perspective or commentary on your job responsibilities and how well you performed them.


If You’re The One Seeking A Reference…

If you are the one looking for a reference letter, I’d suggest being proactive.

For example, I always ask for a letter of recommendation before leaving a job — because my employer is likely to be most familiar with the job I’ve done and their remarks will be timely and knowledgeable.

If you ask a former employer for a reference months after you’ve left a job, they will be less likely to remember all of the assets that you brought to the job.

Of course, this is not recommended if you leave the job on bad terms or are fired — but you probably already knew that!


More Resources For Writing Recommendation Letters

In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some additional resources to help you write an employment reference letter or a personal recommendation letter: