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Recommendation Letters Simplified

What makes a great reference letter?

Question From A Rejuvination Fan : “Family friends with impressive backgrounds have offered to be references for me during my current job search. I was thinking that it might be good to use them for a written undated recommendation letter that I can use and reuse. However, since I have never worked with or for them, I am kinda unsure on what to request. A reference of my character? Do I tell them what I want? Any guidance will help?”

Recommendation letters are great to have – the more the better, actually. The more recommendations you can get, the more proof of your abilities and your great personality. Before you get your fan club writing, there are a few things you must know about personal and professional recommendation letters.

TYPES OF RECOMMENDATION LETTERS Personal recommendation letters generally refer to your character and how it has affected the author’s life or their perspective of life after meeting you.

Whereas professional/academic recommendation letters refer primarily to your professional/student contributions, your work ethic and level of involvement in the office or class environment, and how a few of your personality traits influence your work.

WHAT DOES A GREAT RECOMMENDATION LETTER DO? – Verifies experience – Confirms competence – Builds credibility – Bolsters confidence


The point of a recommendation letter is to state the following: – Describes how the author knows you (teacher, family friend, employer) – For how long they have known you / when did you work together/ how often you meet – How well they know you. – Their overall opinion of you. – Cites specific examples of your work and character and provides illustrates them in depth.

Remember to: – Cover one exceptional quality of the applicant in each paragraph – Use specific examples to show how you observed each quality – Address qualities in order of importance – Keep the body of the letter to two or three paragraphs

The body of the reference letter can illustrate some of the following points: – An evaluation of you based on their experience. – An explanation of why you are qualified (for a specific position). – Explain how your academic skills might translate into other areas. – State the person’s professional qualifications along with examples from specific accomplishments. – Explain how your character would apply to the position. – What you can contribute to the organization. – How your skills matches the advertised position. – How you are better suited than others with similar backgrounds. – Explain weaknesses in your personal record. TIPS Avoid Name Dropping The focus of a recommendation must be you. While it’s great to get recommendations from successful people who know you well, I would warn against actual name-dropping; that is using the relationship to bolster positive opinion about you. I’ve got a few friends who are CEOs, but that doesn’t tell anybody about *my* ability to lead others.

Your friends might be very successful and are happy to write a few kind words about you, but as a potential employer would immediately wonder why they’ve never hired you if you’re such a great employee. Be sure the focus is not on them or their work, but how you have inspired them personally – since, after all, that’s the realm in which they know you.

Credibility While your mother might think the world of you and know you better than anybody else, she might not be the most credible and objective reference (unless you’ve worked for her or if she’s a professional herself). Be sure your source is a credible professional or citizen that can objectively discuss your character and work.

Be Concise Know what you’re looking for in a recommendation letter. Make sure your letters high light those qualities companies or schools are looking for. Otherwise, you’re just wasting every body’s time and resources.

If you’re asking for a letter defining your character, be sure to identify your best personal qualities. If you’ve got a particular position in mind, refer to the job description, position advertisement, or any additional information you’ve gained from the organization you’re applying to for direction.

Content Some times, our references aren’t the best writers. Perhaps they might have some ideas, but don’t know how to put it on paper. I suggest chatting on the phone or in person for a short period of time to discuss what they like about you and how you’ve made a difference in their lives. Take detailed notes or record the conversation.

You can either give the notes to them to serve as reference, or use them if they prefer you to write it. If you are writing for someone else, be sure to use language they would use and be sure to stick with the facts they’ve given you.

Paint a picture The best recommendation letters paint you in an exciting and interesting way. The worst recommendation letters simply list achievements or personality traits without describing the amount of work it took to accomplish these achievements or how these personality traits affected those around you.

Dates Even if the letter is not dated, it’ best to illustrate the dates of significance in your letter.

At work: You can incorporate dates to emphasize when you’ve worked at a particular organization. Example, “From October, 2004 to January 2009, Ana has made a difference at our organization since day one.”

Personally: How long they’ve known you. Perhaps there was a period of time in the authors life in which you’ve played a significant role. Maybe the author has seen you develop into a fine adult and can shed some light on the person you are today.

Contact Information Be sure to include contact information in the event that your future employer is interested in knowing more or would like to verify the author’s identity.

Basic Editing Be sure to correct any grammar or spelling mistakes. Make sure the letter is in an acceptable letter format. Print multiples on fine stationary with a signature if you plan on mailing them out. These basic tips will help you determine what to write for others or know what to get from those who are happy to write recommendations for you. Great recommendation letters can drive an excellent resume home. Now that you know the recommendation letter fundamentals, what are you waiting for? Get writing!


Leslie, Inc. offers solutions for finding happiness through one-on-one coaching, mindful leadership retreats, and digital products. If you’re ready to GET HAPPY, check out Leslie’s guide packs. For more tips on achieving your state of happiness, sign up for Leslie, Inc’s weekly newsletter.

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