Some companies and colleges request a reference letter from a former employer or teacher along with your application. This letter can be used as a reference or requested separately in the application process. A reference letter from an employer can be vital as it acts as an endorsement of your skills.
In this article, we explain what a reference letter is while looking at the format and how to request one from your employer, including examples.
What is a reference letter?
A reference letter, sometimes known as a recommendation letter, details an employees' time in a company. The employer uses it to describe their skills, attributes and qualities, along with an endorsement of those skills. A manager, human resources representative, mentor or employer usually writes the reference letter. It's essential to know the person you're asking to write the letter, as they will accurately highlight the areas where you excel.
The reference letter should be one to two pages long and have relevant information for the potential employer or college committee. A reference letter gives you another level of credibility when applying for a new job and a greater chance of securing it.
Be aware that the people you ask are entitled to refuse, so you should have more than one person to ask.
When do you need a reference letter from an employer?
As job postings have moved online, the competition for a single role has increased. If you can supply a reference letter, you'll be more likely to be called for an interview. The reference letter will give the hiring company insight into your work ethic, competence in your position, and how you interact with other employees without an interview.
What to include in a reference letter
While you will have very little input in the reference letter, you can always give them an example of the type of letter you need. Reference letters usually contain standard information, such as:
- Relationship with the candidate. This establishes a reliable reference for the reader. Once the employer describes their relationship to you – including the length of time they've known you and if they know you personally – they give credibility that their endorsements will be accurate.
- Employment dates. Having the start and end dates is useful as the reader will want to know how long you held this previous position.
- Duties in the role. Giving a synopsis of the primary responsibilities you had will help the reader understand why your the right fit for this new position.
- Why the candidate is suited to the role. Your former employer or referee of choice can use at least one experience to showcase your capabilities and help the reader understand your work ethic. They should describe the skills you used in their example. Any awards or specific achievements can go here. They can also state whether there's any connection between the previous job and the role you're applying for as it will help your chances of securing an interview.
- Reason for writing the endorsement. The primary purpose of a reference letter is to recommend a candidate for a job or college admission. In this section, it is best for the employer to describe why they agreed to write this letter for you and express their support for you in your new application.
How to request a reference letter
Here are steps to consider when asking for a reference letter:
1. Look for more than one reference
The organisation you're applying for may ask for more than one reference. It would be best if you considered who within your network is most qualified to write a reference letter. It's best not to ask your family, as they are considered biased. An employer, manager or teacher are good options as they spend enough time with you to have a grasp on your work ethic, skills and attributes.
2. Choose someone you know that likes you
When selecting someone to write your reference letter, choose an employer or colleague that has witnessed your development and skills. It would be easier for them to provide specific examples of your strongest qualities if they worked with you continuously for an extended period. You want to be sure that the letter of reference will affirm your skills and attributes and how they relate to the position you're applying for, so it's wise to choose someone that you enjoyed working with and enjoyed working with you in return. They may be able to give more specific insight into your personality than someone else would.
3. Be polite
As a reference letter is voluntary, there's no guarantee your chosen reference will agree. When asking for the letter, it's wise to do it face-to-face, or if that's not possible, request a phone meeting with them. When you ask, let them know why you chose them and outline the details of the position you need the letter for. Describe why you think they'd be the strongest person to write your reference letter.
If they refuse, thank them for their time and mention that you would like to keep in touch. Continue to maintain a positive relationship with them as an opportunity might present itself in the future with the same organisation. If they accept your request, thank them for their continued support.
4. Follow-up request
Once they've accepted your request, formalise the request if you spoke over the phone or face-to-face. It's best to have it in writing, beginning the e-mail with, 'As per our phone call today…' and then adding in the details of the position you're applying for and the requirements and skills needed for the role.
5. Help them write the letter
This depends on your relationship with the person writing the letter. If you are personal friends, you may be able to have more input, but you can advise your referee by giving examples if you have a professional relationship with them.
You won't be able to write the letter, but you can influence it by giving your referee a copy of your CV along with your cover letter and the job specification. Give them an outline of what to put into the reference letter and help them send it once it is complete.
6. Give details
There are various ways to send a reference letter, with many organisations having specific guidelines on how to submit them. The employer or college may require it to be sent by post, via e-mail or even as part of an online submission form. Confirm that your employer knows how to send it and knows what date the letter is due to avoid a late or missed submission deadline.
7. Thank the writer
One the letter is sent, follow up by saying thank you. This can be face-to-face, via e-mail, a phone call or a thank you card. Let them know that you appreciate them taking the time to write the letter to help you gain an interview.
Here is an example of a follow-up e-mail request and a follow-up thank you e-mail. These e-mails can also apply to college/university reference letter requests.
Thank you for your time. As per our phone call earlier, I am applying for the position of Financial Executive at O'Gorman international. A required document for this role is a reference letter from a former employer. I hope you can help me demonstrate my skills and attributes as a financial advisor at Coughlan limited. I hope you can discuss my skills with specific examples, notably when I corrected the error in a company's finances that had gone into the red through a clerical error, since this role is based in investigative finance.
The reference letter is due on 10th January to JohnRoache@ogormaninternational.ie. If you are unable to complete it by that time, please let me know. I have attached my CV, cover letter, and the job specification to aid you. If you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Thank you for your continuing support,
Follow-up thank you example
Thank you for taking the time to send a letter of reference for me to Coughlan Limited. Ciara Jones contacted me today to let me know I have secured an interview with the company. Your continuing support throughout my career means a lot to me. I'm sure the confidence in me you displayed in your letter helped her make the decision quickly.