Thursday, July 22, 2004


About Reference Letter

Sample Faculty Reference Letter

Dear [Name of Employer]:

This reference letter is provided at the written request of [name of student], who has asked me to

serve as a reference on [his/her] behalf. It is my understanding that [name of student] is being considered by your organization for the position of [job title]. Please be advised that the information contained in this letter is confidential and should be treated as such. The information should not be disclosed to [name of student, if student has waived access] or anyone in your organization who would not be involved in the hiring decision regarding this individual. Additionally, the information should not be disclosed to anyone outside of your organization without the consent of the student.

I have known [name of student] for the past [number of months, semesters, years] as [he/she] has taken the following courses which I teach: [list courses, give brief description of content of course]. As [his/her] professor, I have had an opportunity to observe the student's participation and interaction in class and to evaluate the student's knowledge of the subject matter. I would rate the student's overall performance in these subjects as average. This is evidenced by [his/her] grades--[state the grades].

[One or two specific examples of the student's performance may be appropriate.] As part of [his/her] grade in [name of course], the student was required to prepare a paper. The paper was designed to measure the student's ability to research, to analyze the results of the research, and to write. [Discuss how the paper submitted by the student indicated to you the student's skills in these areas.] Based upon this, I rate the student's skills competent but not excelling.

The one area in which the student performed above average was in oral communications. [Give specific example to support this.]

Based upon the student's academic performance and my understanding of the position for which the student is applying, I believe the student would perform (place overall evaluation here).

If you would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me.


SOURCE: College Placement Council Legal Monograph: A New Dilemma: Reference Letters
and Checks.

To whom it may concern:

I would like to recommend Sharon Doe as a candidate for a position with your organization. In her position as Staff Assistant, Sharon was employed in our office from 2000 - 2004. Sharon did an excellent job in this position and was an asset to our organization during her tenure with the office. She has excellent written and verbal communication skills, is extremely organized, can work independently and is able to follow through to ensure that the job gets done.

During her tenure with XXXX, Sharon was responsible for supervising the department office assistants. These assistants, under Sharon's management, were responsible for many of the basic office administrative and clerical functions.

Sharon effectively scheduled and managed several assistants each to maintain efficient office operations.
Sharon was always willing to offer her assistance wherever necessary and had an excellent rapport with the many constituents served by our office including clients, employers and other professional organizations. She would be an asset to any employer and I recommend her for any endeavor she chooses to pursue.

Yours truly,

Jane Smith


[Recipient's address block - optional]

Dear [Recipient's name] or To Whom it May Concern:

[First and foremost, if you don't feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation, don't. A vague or fabricated recommendation letter might do more harm than good. Start by identifying your relationship with the person for whom you're writing the letter. Are you the person's manager, co-worker or professor? How long have you known or worked with the person?]

[Picture the person in his or her job role. Point out a variety of positive traits while focusing on work ethics, accomplishments, skills, and significant contributions (use specific examples). If you draw a blank, ask the person to refresh your memory. If you have access to the person's merit reviews, refer to them for hints. If for business reasons you're sorry to see this person go, say so. Avoid vague, powerless words such as nice, good, fine and reasonable. Use words such as excellent, superior, instrumental, creative, innovative, efficient, dependable, articulate, meticulous, self-starter and confident.]

[Wrap it up with a recommendation to hire. Close by offering to provide more information. Include your contact information if it's not in the letterhead.]


[Sign here]

[Your name]
[Your title]

cc [Names for copies - optional]

Tips for Writing a Letter of Reference


by Ralph Brigham, Montana State University

In today's competitive job market, job applicants are forced to use every available tool to be successful. A letter of recommendation must be taken seriously. It could mean the difference between being hired or being rejected. Print a copy of these tips for anyone you ask to serve as a reference.

The appearance of a letter is a reflection on both you and the candidate and it can also determine whether it will be read or not. Please type your recommendation.

Include your affiliation/relationship with the person. Were you a supervisor? President of the company? Adviser? Professor? It is important to indicate this because a professor may see the academic skills while a supervisor may be able to identify work habits.

Give honest and factual information. When approached to write a recommendation, ask yourself if you honestly know the person's qualities. If you have not had much contact with the person you cannot give an accurate description. It would be better to decline to write a recommendation than to write a vague or irrelevant one.

Have the person give you a list of accomplishments, organizations that he/she belongs to, or any other relevant information. It might surprise you to see how much that person has done outside of your contact with them. This can also help you get a more accurate picture of the individual. Having the person give you a copy of his/her resume is an easy way to have this information at hand.

Concentrate on several different aspects of the person. Specifically identify his/her skills, attitudes, personal attributes, and growth, as well as his/her contributions to and performance within your organization. Also, if you do make negative comments, back them up with facts.

Don't reference characteristics that can be the basis of discrimination, such as race, color, nationality, gender, religion, age, appearance, any handicapping condition, marital or parental status, or political point of view.

Beware of the power of words! Some words seem harmless in every day conversation, but carry positive or negative connotations to a prospective employer.

Avoid bland words such as:
nice, good, fairly, reasonable, decent, satisfactory

Use powerful words such as:
articulate, effective, sophisticated, intelligent, observant, significant, expressive, creative, efficient, cooperative, imaginative, assertive, dependable, mature, innovative

The following list of attributes (compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers) is often listed by employers as tools on which to base eventual selection. So, these are excellent points to address:
ability to communicate
willingness to accept responsibility
energy level
interpersonal skills
ability to handle conflict
goal achievement
appropriate vocational skills

A recent national publication (1991 ASCUS Annual) listed the following eight intangibles as important when evaluating teaching candidates:
native intelligence,
a divergent, abstract thinking style,
a high level of commitment,
the ability to be a "self-starter,"
a high energy level,
the recognition that excellence is a journey, not a destination, and
the potential ability to lead.

Please return the recommendation promptly, because a job may depend on the punctuality of the recommendation.


Few hiring managers trust their own judgment when making hiring decisions, especially at higher levels. That's why companies seek outside opinions. Pay attention to what others say, because nothing can hurt you worse than a luke-warm reference.
In seeking testimonials, don't limit yourself to former bosses. Anyone who knows your work can speak on your behalf. That includes peers, subordinates, suppliers, vendors, consultants, even customers. In short, those who've been above you, below you, and all around you.

Don't leave matters to chance, hoping your references will say the right thing. They may be taken off guard, or they may actually contradict you. The best way to proceed is to draft a statement for your reference person to sign or revise. Giving them the raw material simplifies their task. Remember, few busy managers like to write. It's time consuming, and they've often got urgent matters to handle. If you don't provide them with a written draft, your request for a reference letter may be delayed for weeks.

A well-written reference letter should address these issues:

Job title and dates of employment
Relationship of the writer
key promotions
Duties and responsibilities
Work and/or management style
Areas of major strength
Special training Global contributions
Specific results and achievements, and
Warm personal endorsement (if appropriate)
As always, emphasize results and achievements. That's what sells.

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