How to Write a Professional Reference Letter

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How to Write a Professional Reference Letter

Writing a reference letter for someone can prove to be a daunting task. But, with a little help and a few ideas, you can come up with a fantastic draft that does justice to the person you’re writing for. This article gives you all the details…

A reference letter holds a position of prime importance in every application, be it for a job, or even college. Also known as a recommendation letter, it does the job of introducing the candidate from another person’s point of view. This letter is used as a testimony of the candidate’s skills, qualifications, and experience (if any). A reference letter maybe written for a former employee, a student, or even for a social acquaintance.

A resume is usually the document that contains details about the candidate’s professional qualifications and extracurricular activities. However, a reference letter is the document that more or less introduces the candidate to the employer/professor. This letter includes details about the candidate’s personality, and goes on to highlight the aspects that may not be reflected through a resume.

If you have been asked to draft a reference letter by someone, rest assured that it is a responsibility which needs to be fulfilled in an appropriate manner. As an employer, professor or an acquaintance of the candidate, you are expected to depict the person in a positive light, without resorting to insincere flattery. Employers, as well as colleges stress heavily on the content of recommendation letters, since it gives them better insights into the candidate’s character than a resume or a statement of intent does.

We have here a few tips to help you sail in the right direction towards drafting an impressive reference letter.

Before You Write a Reference Letter…

Tip #1: Be Sure…

…of being the person who wants to write a reference letter. To be able to do this, you must have utmost confidence in the candidate’s character and abilities, as you will be providing this letter based on mutual faith. Alongside, you must also be sure of your ability to come up with a draft that will buoy the candidate’s chances. If you have the slightest amount of doubt regarding any aspect, do a rethink on whether you surely wish to do this.

Tip #2: Brainstorm…

…about what should or should not go into the letter. A reference letter shouldn’t simply mirror the resume, it should offer valuable insights that you have had a firsthand experience of. For instance, the reader will know about the candidate’s cumulative GPA of 3.8 through his transcripts, but his ability to work against the odds is something you can highlight in your reference letter.

Tip #3: Be Positive…

…as a good reference letter is crucial to the candidate’s future prospects. Being candid with your views is perfectly acceptable, but ensure that you do not present a critical viewpoint, and end up causing more damage. Politely decline the responsibility if you are unsure about the outcome.

Format of a Reference Letter

The format of a reference letter should adhere to that of a formal letter. Here is a quick look at the sequence of the layout –

  • Begin with your address on the top right corner of the page. Write the date immediately below the address.
  • On the left side, write the receiver’s name (if known) and address.
  • Add a subject line here (optional).
  • Begin the letter with a greeting (Dear Name,).
  • This is followed by the introduction, then the body, and finally, the conclusion.
  • Use a formal closing line and sign the letter.

The Introduction

The introduction for a formal reference letter must include the following details –

  • The candidate’s name
  • Your relationship with the candidate
  • The duration of your relationship
  • A summary of your background


I take great pleasure in recommending Mr. Doug Ross for the position of Operations Manager at ABC Corp. As an integral part of the operations team here at XP Corp., Mr. Ross reported to me from 2010 to 2012. During this period, I had the opportunity to observe his work, and also got to know him better.

The Main Content

The body paragraphs should depict the essence of the candidate’s characteristics. This section is obviously the highlight of the letter, which covers all the essential qualities of the candidate. Here are some examples-

Jim has always been good at communicating his ideas and thoughts, and is equally receptive of feedback. In this sense, he happens to be a good team player, and possesses a keen sense of aesthetic acumen. His excellent grasp of landscaping concepts brings in that slight amount of edginess to every project assigned to him, leaving his definitive fingerprint on it.

Miles’ quest for perfection has always been an asset to our team, here at ABC Corp. In my opinion, his single-minded dedication to achieve the unattainable is what sets him apart from his peers.

Matt’s ability to put in that extra bit of effort in every project he takes up, is what earns him that additional brownie point. His enthusiasm and confidence spurs him to take up a challenge, and his diligent attitude ensures that he completes it.

The Conclusion

The conclusion is where you reiterate your recommendation. If required, you may request the receiver to contact you for any additional information about the candidate. It can be drafted as follows –

Jack has been an asset to our company, and I highly recommend him for the position of ____ in your organization. Being a gifted young man, he will ably shoulder the responsibilities that the position brings. In case you need further information or clarification, do get in touch with me.

What Constitutes a Good Reference Letter?

1. This letter should always maintain an air of formality. Keep the content succinct and business-like.

2. The reference letter should right away explain the relation you share with the candidate, along with its duration.

3. As the writer, you must present a brief about your background and qualifications.

4. The letter has to include a description of how the candidate outshines his/her peers, and the qualities that set him/her apart.

5. Droning on and on about the same qualities does not make an effective reference letter. The content matters more than the word count.

A professional reference letter should be precise and clearly written. Once done, remember to proofread the entire document. Reference letters can prove to be an important resource for applicants in order to bag a coveted job. Hope the tips listed here prove to be helpful.

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