How to Write a Reference Letter That Shines: 16 Easy Steps

Learning how to write a reference letter is essential for managers and teachers. In addition, these are often requested of people in leadership, and this guide will help.

A letter of recommendation is an essential part of the hiring process when someone is looking for a new job. It typically comes from a coworker, former employer, manager, or even a professor in college. It tells the recipient that the person applying for the job would be a good candidate and why they would be a good candidate.

An effective letter of recommendation can make an applicant’s resume and application more appealing. In addition, it can sometimes be the key factor that makes a hiring manager put an applicant’s information on their short list of potential candidates. Therefore, if someone asks you to write a letter of reference, you need to give it your all. This means they are in the midst of a job search, and your recommendation could make a massive difference in their success. Therefore, you must learn how to write a reference letter that will impress a potential employer, and this guide will help.

Materials Needed

  • Paper
  • Pen or pencil
  • Computer
  • Contact information for the recipient

Step 1: Know What To Include

Regardless of the reference letter you’re writing; it will include some similar information. All reference letters need to include these tidbits:

  • How you know the candidate
  • How long you have known the candidate
  • The person’s positive characteristics and how they apply to the opportunity
  • A direct statement of recommendation
  • An invitation to request more information from you directly
  • Contact information for you and the recipient

Step 2: Choose Your Type

How to write a reference letter? Choose your type
Professional reference letter: You will write this letter if you are a coworker, teacher, supervisor, or client who knows the person’s work style and work ethic well

There are several types of reference letters. Before writing yours, you must know what type you’re writing. The answer will depend on your relationship with the person. Here are the common types:

  • Professional reference letter: You will write this letter if you are a coworker, teacher, supervisor, or client who knows the person’s work style and work ethic well.
  • Character reference letter: If you are a family member, friend, mentor, or acquaintance with personal knowledge of the candidate’s character traits, you will write this letter. It is also sometimes called a personal reference letter.
  • Academic reference letter: This letter comes from an advisor or teacher and discusses the candidate’s academic achievements and educational background. This type of reference letter is particularly common if someone has gone to graduate school.

Identifying the type of reference letter will help you write it effectively using characteristics that apply to the person you are writing about.

Step 3: Gather Information

You will need some information about the letter’s recipient before you can write it. You will want to gather this information, such as the company name, address, and recipient’s name. While you can open the letter “to whom it may concern,” your letter will have more impact if the salutation includes the name.

If someone is in the process of filling out a job application and officially applying for a job, they can likely get this information. Ask the job applicant to supply you with this information. Since they are asking a favor in getting the recommendation letter, they should be happy to supply the information. If not, check LinkedIn, which often lists this contact information.

Step 4: Think About Your Recommendation

Before you start writing, think about why you would recommend the candidate. A good recommendation letter will give specific reasons why the person would be an excellent choice to hire. Some things to consider include:

  • Good communication skills
  • Personal qualities like perseverance or friendliness
  • Work ethic
  • Work experience
  • Specific benefits they brought to your company

Take some notes you can use as you write the letter, as this will help you avoid writer’s block.

Step 5: List The Contact Information

At the top of your letter, you will list your contact information, including your name and address. This is aligned on the left-hand margin. Underneath this, write today’s date. Skip one line between the address and the date. Now you need to skip another line and put the contact information for the recipient. You will need the name of the hiring manager or recruiter, their job title, the company name, and the company’s address.

Step 6: Write The Salutation

The salutation will typically be “Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name:” with a colon instead of a comma after the greeting. However, sometimes you will not have this information. For example, you could write “Dear Hiring Manager” if you need to or “Dear Admissions Committee” for a letter intended for an academic setting. Sometimes you will be asked to write a general letter of recommendation that is not for a specific job application. In this case, “To Whom it May Concern” is appropriate. You may also choose “Dear Sir/Madam.” In other scenarios, however, avoid this generic salutation.

Step 7: Compose The First Paragraph

In the first paragraph, you need to say who you are and how you know the person the letter is about. Next, include details like how long you have known them and why you are an appropriate person to write a letter of recommendation. Finally, include your recommendation and the specific job title or description if you know it. Keep this paragraph relatively short but comprehensive. Also, make your enthusiasm for the applicant clear in this opening paragraph. Avoid any fluff writing or something that may feel over-the-top in your recommendation. Here is an excellent example of a first paragraph:

“My name is Sallie Jones, and I am writing on behalf of John Smith, who is applying for your open sales manager position. I am a sales team lead at Acme School Supplies, and John has been on my team for the past five years. I believe he would be a good fit for your sales manager position.”

Notice how the writer stated who they were, how they knew the person, and for how long. Finally, they ended the paragraph with their statement of recommendation.

Step 8: Move To The Body Paragraphs

The remaining paragraphs include details on why you think the person is a good candidate for the job. Here you want to be as specific as possible. But, again, use examples that support your recommendation. As you think about what to include, keep the qualities and skills specific to the job or degree program the person is trying to attain. For example, if someone is applying for a graduate school program, you might include information about their research skills and tenacity. On the other hand, if someone is applying for a managerial position, their communication skills and natural leadership abilities will stand out. Here is how a body paragraph might read:

“I believe that John Smith would be an excellent candidate for your sales manager position. When he worked with me at Acme School Supplies, he was tenacious about recruiting new retailers. During our five years together, he added five new retail chains to our vendor list. In addition, his outgoing personality helps him connect well with potential clients and vendors, which would be an asset to your company.”

You will want at least two body paragraphs. One of the paragraphs should be just a statement of recommendation.

Step 9: Close The Letter

Now you are ready to close the letter. In the closing, summarize your reasons for the recommendation and invite the recipient to contact you with further questions. Add your email address and phone number in the paragraph. End it with a signature if you are printing the letter. If you are sending it digitally, type your full name. In the closing, use words like “without reservation,” “highest recommendation,” “confidently,” or “wholeheartedly” to express your enthusiasm for the applicant. Here is how this might look:

“I am confident in my recommendation of John for your Sales Manager position. If you have questions or want to speak further about this, please contact me at SallieJ@acme.com or 444-444-4444.

Sincerely,

Sallie Jones
Sales Team Manager, Acme School Supplies”

Step 10: Keep It The Right Length

Your reference letter needs to be the right length. In general, it should not be any more than one page. If you have just one or two paragraphs, the recipient may assume you don’t know the person well enough to recommend them. Therefore, the ideal letter length should fill about one typed page. First, choose a few key points about the person applying for the job they want. Then, work those into three or four paragraphs. Be sure to include information about how you know the person.

Step 11: Focus On Format

Formatting is essential when sending a reference letter. You want to make sure it is single-spaced, but include a space between the paragraphs. In addition, you will want one-inch margins and align the letter left. For the font, do not choose anything crazy. A 12-point standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, is a good choice. You want the letter to be easy to read. Any font that is too flowery will make the letter hard to read, hurting the person’s chances of getting the job.

Step 12: Proofread Your Letter

Before you send the letter, proofread it. Consider having someone else proofread it too, but if you do, ensure you do not reveal the candidate’s name. Job applications and job searches are somewhat private, so you do not want to let someone in on a secret that is supposed to be kept under wraps. Do not send a letter of recommendation with many typos and grammar errors. It may reflect poorly on the candidate. Proofreading is essential.

Step 13: Choose The Right Subject Line

Your subject line is important if you send your letter via email. It should list the candidate’s name and the job title if you know it. Also, use the word “recommendation” to show why you are sending the email. So your subject line might look like this:

  • Recommendation for John Smith – Sales Manager Job

Remember, hiring managers get hundreds of emails daily when they have jobs open. So you need to show them in the subject line why they should look at your email.

Step 14: Study A Reference Letter Example

Before you write your first reference letter, take some time to study an example of a good one. Here is what you might write:

Sarah Hollingsworth
123 Main Street
Business City, NY 12345
333-333-3333
Sarah@acme.com

July 30, 2022

Ralph Lee
Hiring Manager
Duluth Tech Co
383 South Street
Business City, IA 12345

Dear Mr. Lee:

I am pleased to recommend Scott Swallow for the sales associate position at Duluth Tech Co. As the sales manager for Acme Tech, I have had the pleasure of working as Scott’s supervisor for the past ten years. As a responsible and punctual employee, Scott was one of my top performers. I wholeheartedly endorse his qualifications and skills.

Throughout our decade of working together, I was impressed by Scott’s knowledge of sales tactics. I also found that he had excellent people skills and good intuition, which helped him connect well with our candidates and clients. During his time with us, he helped grow our sales by 10% by bringing on five new company accounts.

While this sales skill was one of his top benefits, Scott was also very personable and an excellent team player. His optimism helped encourage other sales associates to keep working hard. He developed positive relationships throughout the company and with his direct coworkers, and no one viewed him as the competition.

I am confident to recommend Scott to you and believe he would fit the team at Duluth Tech Co. well. If you would like to ask any further questions or get more information about Scott’s work for us, please email me at Sarah@acme.com or call 333-333-3333.

Sincerely,

Sarah Hollingsworth
Sales Manager, Acme Tech

Step 15: Look At A Sample Personal Reference Letter

Personal reference letters focus on personal character traits, not professional work experience. However, because a personal reference letter is a little different from a professional one, here is a look at the paragraphs it might include:

Dear Ms. Smith:

I am pleased to write a reference letter on behalf of Sarah Hollingsworth, who has been one of my closest friends since elementary school. If you are looking for a hardworking and dedicated employee who will give her all to your company, Sarah is the one you want.

Sarah always had to work a little harder than others in school, but she never gave up. She stayed at the top of the class in spite of some learning challenges and difficult home life in a single-parent home. She even earned a scholarship to college due to her academics. This shows her tenacity, which would be a vital asset to your company.

As an adult, I have watched Sarah succeed in her job. Her recommendations from past clients show her caring nature and professionalism.

I am pleased to offer my recommendation for Sarah for your program. If you hire her, you will get a dedicated and professional team member who will be an asset to your team. If you want to know more, please email me at bff@email.com or call 123-456-7890.

Sincerely,

Samantha Stephens

Note that in this example, the sender focuses on personal character traits they observed rather than specific work experience. However, work ethic is part of the letter solely because this is something the sender observed.

Step 16: Use A Letter Template

Consider using a reference letter template if you have never written a reference letter before. Remember that it will be a formal business letter. Here is what it will contain:

[Your Name]
[Your Address]
[City, State Zip]

[Today’s Date]

[Recipient’s Name]
[Job Title]
[Company]
{Address]
[City, State Zip]

Dear [Name of Recipient]:

Paragraph 1: This short introduction paragraph states the purpose of the letter. You will also include information about why you are writing a professional reference letter.

Paragraph 2: This paragraph includes details about your relationship with the person you are writing about, including facts about their past employment and responsibilities.

Paragraph 3: This is one sentence providing a statement about the person’s qualifications for the job.

Paragraph 4: Provide specific examples to support your previous statement.

Paragraph 5: Close the letter with a summary of your recommendation and an invitation to contact you for additional information. Include contact information within the paragraph.

Sincerely or Respectfully Yours,

[Signature]

[Typed Name]
[Your Job Title]

You can also keep this template on hand if you are a manager because you may get asked to write reference letters regularly. Again, having a template you can pull up and draw from will make this an easier task.

For more help writing your reference letter, check out our guide to grammar and syntax.

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