When providing a reference for a colleague, it is important you tailor the letter to the specific occasion. The candidate's resume will provide details of his qualifications and accomplishments, so you need not repeat the same in your letter. What a potential employer or educational institution is looking for is the unique perspective of someone who has had considerable interaction with the candidate. When phrasing the reference letter, it is vital that you speak affirmatively of your colleague's capabilities, without sounding as if you are gushing.
Obtain information about the purpose of the reference letter. This is important to help you write a letter that provides relevant information. A reference letter to a potential employer needs to be different from one to a college admission committee.
Request your colleague to provide you with his resume. Study this to find the qualifications and achievements that are relevant to the position for which he is applying. Ask your colleague if there are particular aspects he wants you to emphasise in the letter.
Begin with a leading statement that says you are writing a reference letter for the applicant, and write your colleague's full name. State the capacity in which you know the candidate and for how long you have known her. This will establish your qualification to make a recommendation.
Give examples of specific achievements that highlight your colleague's technical skills and competency. Use strong, affirmative words that help to set your colleague apart from others with similar qualifications: words like "professional," "dynamic," "significant," "dedication" and "innovative" create a distinct impression as compared to words such as "good," "reasonable," and "satisfactory."
Add a few sentences about the personality traits of your colleague that make it a pleasure to work with him. Skills in written and oral communication, and interpersonal relationships; flexibility; high level of commitment and a sense of humour are a few traits you can mention.
End the reference letter by stating that your colleague will be an asset to the organisation. Provide your contact details for further correspondence. Make sure you give the correct e-mail address or telephone number to enable the reader to get in touch with you.
Avoid making comments on the person's colour, religion, race, sex and nationality. Make sure all the information you provide is factual because the reference letter will remain as a permanent record.