Reference letters come in many different shapes and forms, so don’t think that one size fits all. I’ve written in the past about how to request reference letters in different situations, be it from professors, former bosses, or dear friends, but the questions remain: What should these reference letters actually look like when you receive them and prepare to send them off to the job, school, or club of your dreams? If you have no idea, taking a look at good reference letter examples is the perfect place to start.
If you ask the wrong person for a reference, or are asked to write a reference for someone you don’t know enough about, you might end up with a very bad letter on your hands. So, as either the giver or receiver, it’s good to know what a solid reference looks like. Read on to discover great character reference letter examples, professional reference letter examples, and academic reference letter examples.
Character reference letter examples
This is a rare kind of reference letter that can be from just about anyone, unless the job in question specifies otherwise. This means your mom, sister, best friend, drinking buddy, or work colleague can write this. Naturally, it behooves you to pick someone with a bit of clout to their name, so don’t drop everything to get a letter from the first person who says “yes.”
Indeed has a good example of a character reference letter. In this one, an acquaintance from the subject’s past is the writer of the letter. The acquaintance, in this case, was a volunteer for the Boys and Girls club alongside the subject of the letter.
This is a very good start to the character reference letter—volunteering always looks good, and in employers’ and academics’ eyes, this is the third and final piece of the invisible “what makes you hireable” pie. If you’re not working or in school, you’re volunteering—that’s all any recruiter (supposedly) likes to see. So if you can snag a character reference from someone who knows the charitable, works-at-a-soup-kitchen version of you, that’s great. Make yourself look like a saint.
This character reference letter is also a good example because even though it’s a character reference, the letter writer still does a good job circling it around to how the subject is the right fit for the position they’re after. It’s the classic “my friend isn’t just a good person—they’re the right person for this job” strategy.
If a pal approaches you and asks you to write a character reference letter, the above template isn’t a bad way to go about it.
Professional reference letter examples
Here’s a killer reference letter example courtesy of Monster.com if you need guidelines on how to write one (or what to look for if receiving one). Different from the character reference letter example, this reference letter example has a heavily professional slant which makes it the perfect example for job applications.
Starting with how it opens, you’ll notice the referee wastes no time in showering the subject of the letter in glowing praise, detailing what her strengths are and why they should be considered important to the reader of the letter.
The referee also makes sure to discuss the subject’s soft skills as well as hard skills, so it’s not just that the person in question is “professional” and “reliable” but also “eternally upbeat” and enthusiastic. Recruiters and hiring managers in many fields are often looking for a balance of soft and hard skills, so this referee’s clarification that the person she’s writing on behalf of has both in spades is definitely a big plus.
The way the referee finishes the letter is also important. When she says “[The subject] has my highest recommendation, and I am happy to furnish more details if you would like additional information,” she’s making sure not to beat around the bush. She plainly states her adoration of the subject (the softer the praise, the less effective the letter, so go hard with it!), and invites additional questioning. She’s not afraid to keep swinging for her referee.
And lastly, look at the letter’s closing. The letter writer includes all necessary contact info and reiterates that she was the subject’s manager. This shows the subject is good at taking orders and makes for a good employee. If it were just an average coworker writing the letter, it wouldn’t make much of an impact. Getting a boss to say good things about you shows you know how to respectfully operate within your level of a corporate hierarchy.
Academic reference letter examples
If you’re looking to whip up a knockout academic reference, check out The Balance Careers’ academic reference letter example post. Not only does it cover academic references in great depth, but it goes the extra mile to differentiate between basic college admissions letters and graduate school references as well as what specific items you should be conscious of when tackling both.
To focus on a single example, though, check out the sample reference letter template posted at the bottom of the page hyperlinked above. It does an excellent job of breaking down what the major elements are of a good academic reference.
Notice how the letter focuses on the specific program the student is applying for and uses the student’s relevant academic accomplishments to underscore how good of a fit said student would be for the program in question. This approach is targeted, tactical, and necessary.
On a related note, try to ensure the reference letter is written by someone whose name lends extra weight to whatever the topic at hand is. If you’re applying for medical school, perhaps a distinguished pharmacology professor you worked closely with would be an ideal candidate.
Back to the example, pay attention to how the referee establishes their connection with the student, detailing how well they know them and how they met. This is an important thing to do in any reference letter—not just for academia—so make sure your referee does a good job detailing how long they’ve known you and in what capacity (or if you’re the writer, be sure to spin a yarn about your origin story with the subject).
The reference letter, in summary
No matter what kind of reference letter you’re writing, they all hit similar beats—they focus on how the subject is a perfect fit for the job in question, they offer descriptions of the letter writer’s relationship with the subject, and they end with an offer for further contact as proof that the writer is willing to keep singing the subject’s praises.
Each type of reference does have a few unique quirks, as seen above, but those can be easily handled as long as you ask the right person for your reference (or are asked by the right person to write theirs). It’s not hard—so go score a fantastic reference with confidence, and use these reference letter examples as guides.