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How to Write a Letter of Reference for Someone

Updated October 31, 2018

Reference letters are important aspects of the job-hiring process. Prospective employers want to verify an applicant's skills, talents and personal attributes with people who have worked with or know him well. If you've been asked to write a reference letter for a former employee, colleague, relative or friend, there are few suggestions on how to write an effective letter.

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  1. Make sure you're up to it. Don't accept the task unless you're sure you can do it. If you feel you can write a strong, positive letter, then you should accept. If you don't feel you know the applicant well enough or aren't comfortable writing something positive, you should decline.

  2. Know the format. A reference letter is a formal business letter and the language you use should not be casual, flippant or offensive. Before including anything questionable, discuss it with the person who asked you to write the letter. Humour may not be advisable for most reference letters, but in some instances, could humanise the applicant.

  3. Write a brief introduction. State who you are and your relationship to the applicant. Keep the information about yourself short so you can focus on describing the length of time and the capacity in which you know the applicant.

  4. Describe the applicant's skills and qualifications. If the person worked for you in the past, write about job duties and responsibilities. If applicable, describe any promotions and awards the applicant received as an employee. It's important to describe any ways in which the person exceeded his duties and demonstrated initiative and self-motivation. If you're writing about someone who didn't work for you, highlight the personal qualities that make this person stand out from the crowd, such as honesty, integrity and industriousness. Describe specific ways in which the applicant demonstrated those traits.

  5. Conclude the letter positively. Recommend the applicant without reservation and offer to answer any inquiries. Write your contact information and sign the letter.

  6. Warning

    Don't write anything negative in your letter, and avoid writing anything that could be interpreted as a weakness in the applicant. Make sure you proofread the letter at least twice for spelling and punctuation mistakes, and have a second person look it over for errors.

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Things You'll Need

  • Computer
  • Resume paper

About the Author

Sampson Quain is a screenwriter and filmmaker who began writing in 1996. He has sold feature and television scripts to a variety of studios and networks including Columbia, HBO, NBC, Paramount and Lionsgate. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from the University of Southern California.

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