What makes a great reference letter?

Reference letters are a perfect way of giving someone a personal insight into your professional skills and how you may be suited to the position in question. They are important in creating a good impression for prospective employers or staff and may determine whether or not a position is offered. This blog by Business Kitz has been created to walk you through everything you need to know about reference letters.

What is a reference letter?

A reference letter is a personal testimony from a previous employer or supervisor that positively endorses someone’s skills or character. Reference letters are usually written by someone that is familiar with the person’s work ethic, commitments, character and achievements. A letter of reference may be requested when applying for a job, internship, graduate program, scholarship, or a residential application. A great reference letter should exude positive affirmations of your suitability to the position and lists multiple personable attributes.

What are the different types of reference letters? 

The tone and content of the reference letter is contingent on the context of who is requesting the letter and what its intended purpose is. Let us walk you through some common variations:

Professional references 

A professional reference letter is most commonly requested when applying for a job, in which the testimony should endorse the qualifications of the applicant, and the quality of their professional skills. It would be suitable for this to be written by a past employer, supervisor, colleague, tutor or teacher that has a personal understanding of the applicant’s achievements and skills. The letter generally includes the responsibilities included in their previous roles, any particular strengths and qualifications, as well as any notable achievements.

Character references

A character reference is more personable and includes an intimate description of the individual’s qualities and traits that inform them to be an ideal candidate. The letter may describe their personal relationship with the individual, and include community service experience, previous leadership positions or personal attributes that would make them an asset to a team. 

Academic references

An academic reference letter is usually a way of qualifying the candidate’s education and academic achievements. These are usually accompanied with an official academic transcript or certificate to affirm their qualifications. Such a letter would commonly be required for academic awards, tertiary education scholarships, graduate programs or internships. 

How do I obtain a reference letter? 

It is best to ask someone who knows you well, both in a professional and personal sense, to write you a letter of reference. It is important to provide them with a list of achievements or experiences you would like them to include in their letter – they may not know everything you’ve ever achieved! If the letter is for the purpose of applying for a specific job, it is also helpful to provide a copy of the job description to the person who is writing the letter so they can address certain criterium. Make sure the person writing the letter also feels comfortable and confident in writing a positive reference.

How should I format the letter? 

To keep the letter professional, follow a proper business letter format and include all contact information for the individual that the reference is for. With the permission of the individual that wrote the reference, it may be beneficial to also include their contact information. Try to keep the length of the letter to one single page. 

In the letter, the person writing the reference should briefly detail the nature of their connection and how long they have known the candidate. This should be followed by a positive endorsement of their professional skills, as well as citing notable achievements, experience and positions they have held. Extra details regarding their character can also be included to make the reference more personable.

At the end of the letter, include the signature of who wrote the letter and the date it was created for legitimacy reasons.

Legal advice

If you have any queries or are unsure about reference letters, you may wish to seek further advice. Our sister company, Legal Kitz, can assist with ensuring that your concerns are addressed, and can provide you with advice that is tailored to your situation. You can book a free 30-minute consultation with our experienced and highly qualified team via our website now.

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