How To Write A Letter Of Reference & Examples

Christina J Colclough

By Christina Colclough

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We’ve all been in a situation where we’re asked to write a referral letter for a former colleague or subordinate at some point. This document is important for applicants, serving as a valuable addition to their resume. To ensure your recommendation is impactful, it’s crucial to adhere to the correct structure and include comprehensive information. 

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If you do not know where to start, refer to my guide and the reference letter examples in this article.

What Is A Letter Of Employment Reference?

A recommendation letter is an important document that highlights your skills and value in the past workplace, written by those familiar with your attributes in the professional setting. The letter typically introduces your title, abilities, and contributions to the organization, elucidating why you are a good fit for that position. That’s why people use it when applying for jobs, internships, or graduate programs to provide evidence of their expertise and qualifications.

The primary purpose of a reference letter is to provide recruiters with a deeper understanding of the candidate. Plus, it reveals additional details about the applicant’s background, time frame, situations, and achievements mentioned in the resume.

There are three types of reference letters:

  • Professional references:

This type of document focuses on the candidate’s position and contributions to their previous organization. It also describes the technical and personal skills demonstrated in various roles undertaken by the applicant. Typically, professional reference letters are crafted by managers, colleagues, customers, or anyone who develops a good understanding of the candidate’s abilities in a work environment.

  • Academic references

As their name suggests, an academic letter clarifies the candidate’s qualifications and achievements, covering courses, research, and contributions throughout their academic journey. Instructors, deans, provosts, or other academic professors are qualified to write this letter.

  • Personal references

This type of letter emphasizes individual characteristics instead of hands-on experiences. For example, it explains the compassion and empathy of an applicant who aspires to work in the healthcare sector. Personal reference letters can come from friends, family members, neighbors, or anyone with a close relationship with you.

Things To Do Before Writing Letters Of Recommendation

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Consider the request for a reference letter carefully if you do not know the person very well. Also, ensure your tone stays positive, or at least objective, to avoid ruining the applicant’s potential opportunities.

Once you’ve decided to write it, begin by asking for the candidate’s background information first; for example, the resume is a great starting point. Reviewing their latest achievements and skills is crucial no matter how long you’ve known them. This aligns the letter with their CVs while offering valuable and reliable information for employers.

Discuss with the applicant to understand which abilities they would like to emphasize. Alternatively, request a copy of the job description and identify the required qualifications yourself.

It is also recommended to search for the business and the position. The more information, the easier it is to craft an impactful letter.

Last but not least, collect all the necessary information about the mailing, such as the recipient’s address or the deadline for submission.

The Standard Template Of A Reference Letter

A referral letter is no different from a normal one except for its purpose. Follow the standard structure below if there are no specific requirements.


Opening a letter with a friendly greeting is a polite gesture even if you haven’t met the recipient in person. Use “Dear Mr./Mrs. + Last Name” or “Dear hiring manager of…” (when you do not have specific information about the recipients). 

If the candidate is applying to an academic course, start with “Dear Admissions Committee.” For general purposes, please mention “To whom it may concern.”

First Paragraph

The first lines of your main content should clarify your identity and relationship with the applicant. Try to mention the following:

  • How long have you known the candidate?
  • What is your role?
  • Why are your comments reliable to demonstrate their job-ready skills?

If you are working on a professional letter, introduce your company or title. It is also good to mention the role the candidate is applying for to provide full context for the subsequent evidence.

Subsequent Paragraphs

The following paragraphs address the purpose of a cover letter – a brief description of the candidate. All you need to do is provide proof demonstrating the person’s qualifications for the open position.

If necessary, do not hesitate to write 2-3 paragraphs to clarify the issue. However, always keep it to the point. It would help if you only mentioned abilities that match the job requirements. For example, mechanical skills sound ill-fitted for the role of an accountant.

Additionally, describe the contributions the applicant can bring to the organization by mentioning some of their achievements in the previous role.


In the final paragraph, emphasize that your words are “wholehearted” or “honest.” If needed, express your willingness to address further questions and provide additional contact details for discussion. End the letter with formal phrases like “Sincerely” or “Best regards,” followed by your signature.


A standard letter should contain at least two paragraphs. A short description might indicate a lack of familiarity to properly evaluate the applicant or appreciate their experience. 

On the other hand, it should not exceed one page, as a lengthy letter may become overwhelming. Aim to keep your letter concise. Based on my experience, 3-4 paragraphs are sufficient to cover all the necessary content.


A well-organized letter showcases your professionalism and provides a polished presentation. Similar to what you do with documents at work, add space between each paragraph. Align all four margins to approximately 1″ and distribute your text evenly within the margins. In short, follow the norms for best results.


For formatting, stick with traditional options like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman. Adjust the font size between 10-12 depending on the length of your content. If you need to shorten paragraphs to fit within one page, opt for a smaller size.

Tips To Write Appropriate Your Reference Letter

Reference Letter advice

Keep It Positive And Honest

The primary goal of a recommendation letter is to recommend the applicant for a future role that fits their personal qualities. Do not do the opposite! Maintain a positive tone throughout the letter and refrain from expressing discontent or complaint. If you cannot do so, decline the request to write the letter from the beginning.

Additionally, be specific and honest and use strong adjectives to support your description. It is great that you can provide evidence of superior qualifications. 

However, do not exaggerate things. Ensure that you base your statement on your genuine experience with the candidate. Otherwise, they might get into trouble at the interview, and your reputation might be ruined.

Cover The Essentials

Though the cover letter should only contain 2-4 short paragraphs, it should convey all the necessary information to the employer. Focus on the applicant’s attributes, skills, and achievements tied to specific examples.

In addition to the main content, the letter should also briefly mention your background (that’s right, you) to increase credibility. Tell the recipient about your role, contact information, and relationship with the candidate.

Do not try to cram too many things into the letter if they do not align with the JD. For example, personal information (age, gender, or race) is already on the resume, and employers don’t want to waste their time on it again.

Match The Job Description

As mentioned above, you must refer to the job description to outline your letter. Remember that you only have one page, so focus on the most relevant skills and experiences. For example, if you recommend a person for the CEO position, clarify his leadership ability in previous projects.

Make sure it remains truthful and relevant. Provide the most valuable information so the hiring manager wants to learn more about the applicant.

Proofread Your Letter

Spelling or structural mistakes can significantly reduce the impact of your words, diminishing your credibility and professionalism. Hence, have someone thoroughly review the entire letter to make it completely error-free before submission.

Letters Of Reference Examples

Dear [company name],

[candidate’s name] and I have known each other for over 5 years. We were both students at the university and then worked together at [company name] since graduation. As marketing director, I am honored to have her as a public relations specialist on my team.

As [candidate’s name] direct supervisor, I found her among the most talented. Creativity, responsibility, and dedication are great personal attributes that she has demonstrated throughout her work here. She is also an inspirational leader as she oversees state marketing strategies. Her optimism and sociability have created a positive energy in our group and department.

I also fully applaud her level of expertise. Extensive knowledge and sensitivity to market trends have brought great ideas to our promotion campaigns. Specifically, she always stays on top of the latest developments in the market. With her analytical skills and keen intuition, she often proposes fresh approaches to build or strengthen client perception. Her contributions are certainly unparalleled. She has achieved many remarkable achievements, from increasing engagement on landing pages by 20% to improving the ROI of digital campaigns by 15%.

For all these reasons, I believe that [candidate’s name] is a good candidate for the marketing director position at [company name]. If you would like to discuss more about her work experience and skills, don’t hesitate to contact me at [email address] or [phone number]

Kind regards,

[Your personal information].


Who To Ask For A Character Reference?

People close to the applicant, ideally in a work or academic environment, like coworkers or supervisors, are reliable sources for reference letters.

How To Reject A Reference Letter Request?

Do not hesitate to say No if you are not closely acquainted with the applicant or do not want to write. Politely explain that you are not the right person to give them a reference letter and, if possible, introduce them to someone else.

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Writing a reference letter requires some effort, but it is not an impossible task. Take advantage of the expert tips and the standard templates above to get started. The letter of recommendation example may help, but tailor it according to the specific situation. 

Be careful with your words since they might significantly influence somebody’s career development!

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Christina J Colclough

Christina J. Colclough

Dr Christina J. Colclough is an expert on The Future World of Work and the politics of digital technology advocating globally for the importance of the workers’ voice. She has extensive regional and global labour movement experience, is a sought-after keynote speaker, coach, and strategist advising progressive governments and worker organisations.

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