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.