What is a reference letter and why do you need one?


If you are trying to move up the career ladder, at some point you will need to provide a reference letter when applying for a job.

These letters demonstrate a candidate’s skills and character, and they are written by colleagues, mentors, and community leaders who know the candidate.

They’re often required by people applying for jobs early in their careers, and they can be a confusing undertaking – so we’ve demystified the reference letter by explaining these documents and the information they should always contain.

Don’t worry if you don’t know about reference letters – you soon will. And if you want more application tips, check out our roundup of major labor market trends in 2022and the web best freelance sites.

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Reference Letters Explained

A reference letter is an endorsement of a job applicant’s skills, character, and abilities. They are often needed during the application process for jobs, graduate programs, internships, and other scenarios frequently found early in a candidate’s career path, and they are ideal for reinforcing nomination.

Most of the time, a reference letter is requested by an organization as part of the hiring process, but proactive candidates can produce their own letters if they want to better demonstrate why they are the ideal candidate for a position. Some applicants even get references from colleagues every time they leave a position, of course – so they have references ready to use for future applications.

If you are a graduate, someone just entering the workforce, or someone changing careers, a reference letter can be an essential part of your application. It can show faith in your abilities and demonstrate things you simply can’t get from a resume or cover letter, because external endorsement from a trusted figure matters a lot. Ultimately, this can be a crucial part of a job application by providing another assurance that you are suitable for the job.

Types of Letter of Recommendation

Not all reference letters are created equal. Many job applications require a professional reference letter usually written by a manager, colleague or teacher. These documents go into more detail than a resume and explain the candidate’s past job history, successes, and abilities.

Other applications require character references. Family friends or respected figures in the community often write them, and they explain the characteristics of the candidate and why it would make them suitable for their new job or role.

You will also come across positions that require an academic reference letter, especially in educational institutions. As the name suggests, these letters cover the candidate’s training to prove they are suitable for a new role. They are also sometimes necessary if a person is applying for university funding.

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What should be included in a letter of recommendation

If you need to ask someone to write a reference letter – or if you’ve been asked to write one – then it’s worth considering exactly what should be in the document.

The letter should always clarify the relationship between the candidate and the person writing the letter, and how long they have known each other – an endorsement isn’t as meaningful from someone who barely knows the candidate.

A good reference letter should explain why the candidate is an excellent choice – whether for professional, personal or academic reasons – and give concrete examples that prove why they are suitable for the position. It’s also important to sum up the candidate in a short closing paragraph that really explains why they are ideal. If you’re writing a letter and want to make sure you’ve got the facts straight, ask for the candidate’s resume and a copy of the job posting before you put your fingers to the keyboard.

And, at the end of a good reference letter, the writer should also include contact information if the recruiter wants to clarify any details.

If you’re looking for someone to write a character reference, always ask yourself if the person knows you well enough – whether it’s a coach, friend, neighbor, or from a colleague, he must be able to express why you are a good fit. If you need a professional reference, make sure the referee works in an industry relevant to the role in question.

It’s also worth considering the things you don’t want in a reference letter – and if you’ve been asked to write one, decide if you’re the right person for the job.

It’s not ideal if a reference letter highlights a candidate’s weaknesses, for example, or if it mentions personal information that is irrelevant, such as political information, relationship status or religion. Also, make sure that any reference letter uses standard business letter format and is free of spelling, formatting, and grammatical errors.


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