Writing a reference letter for a previous employee, current colleague, friend, or family member, can often be a challenging task. There are times we might be excited about the opportunity to write an employment reference, and at other times you might cringe at the possibility. It really depends on how well we know the person who is asking us to write the letter.
In some cases, our view of the employee’s past job performance might be very positive and inspirational. Other times, we might feel that the employee performed his or her job less than adequately. Then, there are other times in which we may not even be aware of the employee’s past job performance issues at all, either because we were not privy to their day-to-day work habits or because we were in a completely different department altogether. Here are some tips on how to write a professionally worded reference letter.
Plan and Create a First Draft
It is never recommended that the person writing the letter should lie or tell anything that is less than the truth, but we can be creative in how we word certain characteristics when drafting our employment reference. Sitting down in advance of writing the letter and creating a first draft, perhaps listing a few critical points that we would like to highlight, will save a lot of stress and time when it comes to completing the final version. Keep in mind, the letter that is finally submitted to our friend, colleague, or previous employee may be viewed by numerous future employers of that person for many years to come.
Be as specific as possible when writing your reference letter, backing up key professional strengths with positive examples of work performance. An example might be in stating that the employee is very “detail oriented”. Support this claim by giving past examples on the job of how the employee displayed this characteristic. Was she excellent at meeting deadlines? Was he very thorough in researching new analytic procedures? Did she document all emails and phone conversations perfectly and accurately? Giving specific examples in your employment reference will lend credibility and authority.
What Makes them Different?
Keep in mind that your previous employee, friend, or colleague is going to be competing with hundreds or perhaps even thousands of other applicants the same position. Try to provide some valuable insight to the reader of the reference letter by clearly stating what makes this person different from all the rest. Why should the potential employer hire this individual immediately and without question? Never include anything negative into your writing. Rather, simply choose to ignore these less than impressive characteristics while focusing on their strengths and accomplishments.
There are a great many employment reference example letters that can be found online, if beginning from scratch seems too difficult. Simply copy one of these letters and fill in the blanks as we stated above. Always be sure to proofread the final version before handing it over to your previous employee. Grammatical errors, missing punctuation, and bad spelling will not only reflect poorly on you as the writer but also on the person for whom you are writing the reference letter in the first place.
Keep it Brief
The message in the very first email correspondence should be brief and to the point. It should not take more than one screen, consisting of only a couple of short paragraphs. Most of your employers and human resource representatives will be reading hundreds or perhaps thousands of these emails for every individual job posting. This means that they have very short attention spans and usually will only give your cover letter a few seconds to review.
Grab their Attention in the Subject Line
When responding to an online job application, avoid using terms such as “looking for a job” in the subject line. This leads the reviewer to think that you are willing to take any type of position from any sort of employer simply because you need the paycheck. It is better to be more specific, including the precise job title and perhaps the posting number for the position of employment. Again, keep it short and to the point.
The very first couple of lines should clearly communicate exactly why you are perfect for this position. Avoid unnecessary words. Clearly state your name and your email address in the posting and why you have the experience that is relevant for this vacant position. Write your email cover letter using appropriate keywords that are usually displayed in the online description for the job opening. These keywords are what the employer will be searching for when reviewing your job application. Providing them will give you a greater chance of landing the interview.
Employers and Human Resource Representatives can always tell if a CV has been mass-produced and sent out to several different employers at the same time. Yours needs to be very specifically worded to target a precise company and the exact position for which you are applying. Take the extra time to slightly modify each resume sent to every individual employer, making it more relevant to the unique company job description.
Use Similar Language
Consider using the same types of language that the employer has used to create the original online advertisement for the job opening. For example, if the job description states that they are looking for an employee who can “multitask”, then you should include in your resume that you possess this specific skill and support your claim with previous examples from past employment.
Pay Attention to Job Titles One of the best ways to get noticed is to create job titles that pop. For example, rather than simply stating that you were a “Manager” in your previous position, consider a more creatively worded job title instead. Changing your title to “Manager of Distribution and Logistics” will definitely capture the attention of the CV reviewer while also making your previous position appear more valuable and important.
Focus on Past Achievements
A common mistake that many first time resume writers make is by creating a lengthy document filled with a rather tall list of job skills and responsibilities without highlighting any of their past achievements. Reviewers see these long lists hundreds of times each day, so your CV needs to be different in order to get noticed. For example, instead of stating that you were simply a “sales representative” in your previous position, you might also include that you were awarded the “Top Sales Agent of 2013” for exceeding your monthly quota for 12 months in a row. Show that you consistently go above and beyond the call of duty by listing as many previous professional achievements as possible.
Make it Email Friendly and Proofread
Most employers will not even print out a hardcopy version of your resume. Instead, they will view it online or in their email inbox. Always take this into consideration when formatting the text and content included inside. Make sure that it is easy to read and flows smoothly for the reviewer. Bullet Points work well, and proofreading is essential. Misspellings and bad grammar are an instant turnoff to many potential employers. Because Human Resource Representatives receive so many applications every day, many will immediately toss any CV that contains the first sign of a grammatical error into the garbage. Take the extra time to proofread your resume several times, and consider asking someone you trust to also proofread the document as well.