Sample Reference Letters

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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No matter what line of work you're in or what level you've reached in it, reference letters inevitably come into play. If you're a full-time or part-time employee, you might be vying for another position with your own company or at an outside firm. Perhaps you're a consultant on the constant prowl for additional clients or new projects.

Having colleagues or former employers agree to serve as references for you is important. Asking someone to do so can be onerous enough in and of itself. Many people--and I'm one of them--are reluctant, no matter how competent we are in our professions, to ask others to tell someone else that we are competent. However, the real burden is on the person who's agreed to provide a recommendation. It's one thing to do so by telephone. It's another to do so in a letter.

Reference Letter Scenarios

The flip side of this reference letter coin is the corporate perspective. Human resources departments are legally obliged to serve as references. This can be as minimal as confirming that an individual was employed by the company in such-and-such a capacity, from this date to that date, and left voluntarily. That information is all that is legally required. (Saying anything else can invite a discrimination lawsuit.) Such a reference, of course, usually isn't one you want to use in a personal search for a new position. They're only secondary references.

In either case, companies that provide various legal and business forms and templates can be a godsend. Human resources departments will use a variety of sometime subtly different letters for different circumstances--a termination for cause, a layoff, a promotion, and so on. Individuals might want to have several stock letters on hand as well, to make it easier on the colleagues they ask to serve as reference for them.

The contents of a reference letter, whether it's coming from a company or a person, are basically the same. The period of employment or time one person has worked with another is one element included in every case, as is the type of work performed or professional services rendered. Optional elements include performance, attitude, responsibilities, and technical qualifications or skills. It is largely a matter of discretion on the part of the person providing the recommendation as to how much praise or positive information they include.


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