Reference Letters: What, When, How
References are invaluable to potential employers as they give them a sense of your work ethic and habits from someone who has had substantial experience with you. Ideally when you have completed an internship, we recommend you get a letter of reference from your direct supervisor or another manager with whom you worked closely. When a future employer is undecided about your application, a raving reference can sway the final decision.
What does a good reference letter include?
• In what context(s) the person knows you and for how long (specific dates required)
• What tasks or responsibilities did you undertake and how well did you execute them
• What value did you bring to the organization beyond your professional responsibilities
• Your work style, habits and other traits you brought to the work place that were appreciated
The reference letter should be written on one page, a company letterhead and should be signed.
What if my Manager is busy and ask me to write it instead?
This does happen especially in consulting and banking. Some bosses will suggest you write the draft letter and have them edit and sign off on it. If this does happen, they are trusting your sense of judgement to outline what you think your key value additions have been. Do not downplay your contributions out of humility; be bold and truthful.
Sample reference letter:
To Whom It May Concern:
I am the founder a company called XY which makes educational content available as mobile applications. I have had the pleasure of working with Fred Bradford on two projects within this company. Fred’s attention to detail, clear communication and incredible enthusiasm were essential to the advancement of these projects.
Recently, I have hired Fred again in September 2011 as a Project Manager to oversee the creation of a iPad/Android tablet language learning application for children. Again, Fred’s professionalism and strong interpersonal skills are evident in his interactions with the existing staff as well as sub-contractors. He continues to display his adept abilities in multitasking and problem solving once our company needs and requirements were laid out.
Fred is a remarkable young man who is genuinely interested in his own professional and personal development. He seeks, accepts and internalizes feedback and strives to improve his knowledge and exposure by taking on additional responsibilities. I noticed Fred took extensive notes when I gave feedback and would constantly strive to put what he learned into practice. As a result, he has progressed improved in his project management, research and writing skills.
Please do not hesitate to call me at 1800-000 or e-mail at fredbradford@ALA.orgif you would like to discuss his track record further.
When do I use a reference letter?
You will usually be asked to present two or three reference letters when applying for a new opportunity – internship, fellowship, job etc. As you would do with a resume and cover letter, it is important to present the most relevant reference letters depending on what you want to highlight to the potential employer.