Reference letters play a huge role when it comes securing a job or a position. They convey another person’s perspective about a candidate and ease the fears of an employer or an institution to a certain extent. Someone who knows the applicant up close and personally usually writes a personal reference letter. The person would be able to vouch for the applicant’s personal behavior and demeanor. Another thing about personal reference letters is that they are not just meant for an applicant seeking employment or for a student aspiring to get into a college but are also most notably used in areas like community service, club memberships and adoption procedures.
There are many things to keep in mind while drafting a personal letter. Starting from the tone to its ending paragraph, each and every aspect must be taken into account to create a letter that would be charming yet insightful. Below are some of the simple aspects of a reference letter.
Make sure that you are thoroughly informed about the post that the applicant is applying for. If you do not understand the post or position, make sure to get to know it. Remember that it is the tiniest details that make the biggest difference. As such, it will go a long way in helping the applicant if you are familiar with the post applied for and the institution applied to. If you do not have any clue whatsoever, then a quick glance on the Internet could help you immensely.
2. Candidate Credentials
The next obvious step is to list out the credentials of the candidate. Do not generalize the letter by just saying how hard working and committed the applicant is. As it is a personal reference letter, you are expected to provide examples of such attributes too. Make sure that the attributes you highlight in the letter are in accordance with what is required for the position applying to. Go through the resume of the applicant and understand the important points focused on it. That way, you get to know what points to add and bring more attention to in the reference letter.
The tone of the letter has to be formal. Given that it is a personal reference letter, it does not necessarily have to be a rigid formal letter. But a formal letter it certainly has to be. The salutation must be either of the following: “Dear Sir/Madam” and “To whom it may concern”. The usage of the latter comes more in handy when you do not know who you are addressing.
As already mentioned, it has to be a formal letter. The content of the letter is, in most cases, categorized into three paragraphs.
The first paragraph is the introduction. Here, you have to identify yourself and convey how you are related or connected to the applicant. There is no need to go into too much specifics. A brief two-sentence description is all that is required here.
The second paragraph is the main content. This is where all the good stuff has to come in. This acts as the canvas to paint your masterpiece. You describe the positive attributes of the applicant in a tone that conveys sincerity and not desperate flattery. This is an important point to note here. The tone of praise and the amount of praise can have a detrimental effect on the applicant’s chances if it is used too liberally. Try to make it short and sweet at the same time. Here, the usage of examples to illustrate the said attributes will stand you and the applicant in good stead. Using sub paragraphs here to illustrate such examples is a common habit. Remember, if it is genuine, it will have a positive impact on the reader.
The final paragraph is the closing paragraph. As such, it has to remind the reader of the applicant’s good nature in a couple of lines. It would add a great deal of credibility to the letter if you close it by affirming how you would be willing to discuss or receive information about the candidate’s application. Some people make the grievous error of being too enthusiastic about the candidate’s potential in the final paragraph. Refrain from that. The final paragraph has to be a gentle reminder of the already mentioned positives.
5. Not Too Long and Not Too Short
This is a pit hole that too many people find hard to stay out of. Either they make the reference letter too long with one anecdote after the other or make it too short with no examples to back their claims. It is imperative to strike a right balance between the two. Make it too long, and it could reflect poorly on your credentials and as well as that of the applicant. Make it too short, and it would easily make the reader frustrated at the lack of any concrete information.
6. Do Not Exaggerate
This is an important point worth remembering. If you exaggerate a person’s ability, it could later turn out to be a hindrance as expectations also soar along with exaggerations. It would be helpful if you could point at a small weakness of the applicant too. Not only does it add credibility to your claims of being a personal acquaintance of the applicant but also provides a safety net for the applicant as too much expectation could lead to easy dissatisfaction. That being said, do not highlight any major flaws at all. Also, the negative point must be kept as short as possible.
7. Rough Draft
Consider writing a rough draft of the letter. This will provide you with an insight into where more focus has to be laid, where you make mistakes are and more importantly, where any sort of negative statements can be discerned from your letter. It could help you sort out your ideas and put them in order.
Remember that this letter will influence the applicant’s career. Hence, get a feedback from someone else if you are not confident about it.