Nothing demonstrates quality workmanship quite like a thorough testimonial. A well-written employee reference letter supplies your application with a sense of authenticity that you yourself might not be able to convey. To ensure recruiters get the very best endorsements, you have to be picky and time-efficient.
“To supplement our transcripts and other materials, organizations often ask for letters of recommendation that can make or break their decision when it comes to your application,” writes expert Rhea Swain. “If your recommender has the time, see if they can proofread your personal statement or application essay as it will give them a better idea of what your goals are.
Before we unpack all of the do’s and don’ts, it’s important to differentiate between an employee reference letter and an employment verification letter. Each requires different things from former employers, which means candidates have to be extremely specific while acquiring them.
The ideal letters of recommendation
An ineffective recommendation letter tends to fall into one of three categories: Too Vague, Too clerical and Too old.
When filing through a Rolodex of references the temptation is to secure one that speaks to character first and foremost. While this is certainly an important element of a solid recommendation letter, no element should overshadow the others.
In a handful of paragraphs, you need a reference to communicate their cachet while advertising your competence, ability and turn of mind. This is why it’s a good idea to have several different reference letters on deck at any given juncture:
- An Academic reference letter from a former professor
- An Integrity Recommendation letter written by a non-familial source (particularly one belonging to a prestigious field)
- A Professional letter from a former employer, intern coordinator or colleague
All of these variations should be acquired no more than two years prior to the application process. If you don’t hear anything from one of your references within two weeks, suggest drafting a template yourself that they can fill in at their earliest convenience.
“Most likely if you have a really busy boss they’re actually gonna really appreciate that you’re offering to do this. In this template letter, it just needs to be—I would say two to three paragraphs max, I think two paragraphs is just fine, and you want to speak to the actual work,” author Lauren Berger explains. “When people are reading letters of reference they wanna clearly understand what you do for that company.
Rapport is the best guide when deliberating between references. Consult your Human Resources department to find out if your firm has any active policies regarding the release of staff information. If not, feel free to request either a verification or a recommendation letter directly from a superior that you believe can best speak to your quality.
Make sure the letter is no more than two years old and be sure to follow up at least twice over the course of two weeks if you have not received a response.
It’s always a smart idea to request a reference letter before you need one. In the event of termination or bad blood make sure your rhetoric is extremely professional when asking for a reference.
As long as you aren’t in danger of accusations of illegal activity, you should request referral information as soon as possible, even if it’s crystal clear that your former employer hates you on a molecular level. It takes maybe five minutes to write up a quick, “whatta guy” employee reference letter-especially if it’s mostly composed of lies.
Author Beth Winston of Chron.com writes, “The person firing you probably is experiencing some guilt or emotional reaction to the turmoil that you are about to face. Remain polite and professional when you get the news of your firing, but ask immediately for a recommendation as a way to ease your transition into the job search. Some employers are concerned enough about the possibility of legal action that they’ll do what they can to help.”
Format essentials every employer should know
“If you need to write an employment verification letter for someone, it’s important to make sure that your letter provides the correct information and adheres to an appropriate format. You won’t help the recipient by drafting a less-than-professional note,” the Balance Career correctly points out.
The very top of the document should include your name, business address and the date. Try and include the recipient’s address if you can to signal seriousness on behalf of the employee you are referencing i.e this isn’t a stock letter on file but one intended for this position and this position only.
Include a standard greeting before drafting a concise set of two to three paragraphs. Include only what the employee has asked of you directly.
“Use business letter format: This will ensure that your letter is appropriate and professional, as well as easy to read, The Balance Careers concludes. “Know what to include. Whether you’re requesting a letter or writing one for an employee, find out what information to include, e.g., dates of employment and job title.”
I might suggest leaving the occasional gap to allow the author to convey the depth of their relationship to the employee at hand. This can keep the document from seeming perfunctory.
Before committing to every line ask yourself if it positively contributes to the goals cited in the preceding section: Does it speak to the employee’s integrity? Range? Or Competence? If not leave it out. If it speaks to an element previously covered in the document, leave it out. Lastly, be sure to avoid any in-depth evaluations of employee work under your leadership.