THIS IS ONE LETTER THAT YOU WILL WANT TO KEEP ON FILE
Leaving an employer with a strong letter of recommendation also known as a reference letter is one of the most valuable resources that you can walk away from a company with.
Whether you are an employer seeking tips on how to write a reference letter or an employee looking for tips on how to obtain a reference letter I’ve detailed my experience, advice and a sample reference letter template at the end that can be used by anyone.
What is a reference letter?
A reference of this caliber is used to determine a candidates suitability for a company that is hiring for a particular position and to avoid or minimize hiring mistakes.
Many candidates will offer written references to support their resume or job application however a reference letter is a bit different.
A written reference may be the person’s name, relationship to you and their phone number whereas a reference letter is all that but with details.
In my opinion a reference letter is essential for any and all employment opportunities even though not all companies check them or require them.
Is that poor business practice?
If I owned a company I would say yes because it’s my livelihood and I want to ensure we only hire the best employees but in Canada a reference check is happens if the employer initiates the process.
Human Resources will typically call the people on your reference sheet when they are about to offer you a job opportunity or if you are in competition for a position.
No employer wants to go through the process of hiring a potential lemon for their workforce which is why some interviews take time and you’ll go through stages.
The costs involved with training an employee, dealing with problem employees and the time involved can be huge for management and Human Resources.
When there is a bad hire it is typically called, “Waste Recruitment” where it cost more money in time then the employer gets out of performance and revenue.
An employment reference in general can come in the form of reference letter or a reference phone call both of which are standard and perfectly acceptable.
Right off the top I want to suggest that you always have a reference letter hard copy and not have one sent via email as it shows professionalism on your part and that of the reference.
Also, consider who you ask to write a reference letter because whoever signs it will dictate the significance of what was said.
Ideally obtaining a letter from the person you report to and oversees your work is ideal as they have first-hand knowledge of your performance.
Employment Law in Canada
Be aware that not all employers will want to give a reference and that there are no regulations in terms of standards when it comes to writing a reference.
If you are giving a reference in particular a phone reference you are protected in Canada and cannot be sued in court when you are offering a true evaluation or opinion of the candidate.
Keep this in mind when you add an employer to your resume or offer reference phone numbers or letters that what comes out on the other end might not be what you expected.
Getting The Career You Want
What is the purpose of a reference letter?
Any time you submit a resume for a job opportunity it’s important to include a copy of a reference letter also known as a recommendation letter. You will notice I use reference letter and recommendation letter interchangeably throughout the post.
This letter is used to help give the employer an opportunity to learn about you from others who have worked with you or for you.
This type of letter should explain a candidates skills, achievements, character and abilities among a host of other things that I will share with you below.
A letter of recommendation is also known as a;
- Work Recommendation Letter is used for employment opportunities to describe your work strengths.
- Character Reference Letter is used for employment opportunities to describe what kind of person you are.
- Professional Reference Letter is used for employment opportunities for both character and career successes.
- Personal Reference Letter is used for personal needs such as volunteer work, rental application or immigration (we used this type of reference letter from our friends when I filled out my permanent residency package to immigrate to Canada)
- Academic Reference Letter is used for education opportunities when applying for co-op placements or those through University or College.
Not all employers will request reference contacts at the time that you apply for a position as each company is different.
It’s always important to follow the criteria set out for following a job application process and if you are in doubt, ask.
That’s what Human Resources and Management is there for and it shows that you are interested in the position and showing them that you have support.
When should you ask for a reference letter?
Moving to Canada was a huge step for me personally and professionally because I wasn’t sure what I was going to for a career.
In the UK I held a few jobs after University but nothing based on what I went to school for as the competition is fierce and most graduating students struggle to find work.
Any time I left a job for a better opportunity or if I moved house to a new village or city I asked my employer for a hard copy letter of reference.
Personally I’d suggest for everyone to have an employment folder where you keep all important documents from the positions you’ve held in your lifetime.
This way it’s easier to locate and you keep organized something that can be frustrating for those of you who opt to just shove paperwork wherever and then when you need it can’t find it.
If you’re worried about what an employer can put in a reference letter don’t.
Even if you get fired you could ask for a recommendation because in the least it will only detail who you are, your role in the company and the duties of your position.
Ask yourself this though.
Would you really want a letter from a company you were fired from?
Although they can’t legally say anything bad about you they can be truthful when answering questions from another prospective employer.
You may want to ask for a reference letter from your employer when;
- Leave a company
- Move Away
- Get Promoted to a new role with-in the company
Ideally you will want to ask for a reference letter in advance of you leaving a company but don’t be shy to ring your employer or boss up after you’ve left if you forgot to get this valuable document.
Be sure to give your employer or former employer ample time to draft a letter for you or they may tell you, “no”. Keep in mind that they are busy and it is not something they have to give you.
You may also want to include a copy of the job description and company name to the person you are asking for a reference letter if it is to be specific. If the reference letter is generic in nature then obtaining a standard reference letter is fine.
Drafting The Letter
What should you include in a reference letter?
Keep in mind that not all employers know how to write a reference letter so if you are reading this today as an employee asking for a recommendation letter be sure to let your boss know what you are looking for.
A good reference letter will detail the following information.
- Contact information at the top so you can be called or a letter sent to you
- Salutation and Greeting – Employer name (if you know it) or Dear Mr./Ms include last name or To Whom it May Concern, Dear (insert name) Committee.
- First Paragraph- How you know the person and for how long including dates of employment, applicants job title, name of company, your position in the company and status of employment.
- Second Paragraph- An evaluation of their skills and abilities while you worked with them or they worked for you
- Closing Paragraph always offer a way for the company to contact you for more information if needed and perhaps paraphrase what you have written above in a sentence or two.
- Always type your name and personally sign the reference letter.
The best recommendation letter will always boost your employment opportunity rank by a mark when being read by the hiring manager or Human Resources.
What NOT to include in a Reference Letter
If you are writing a recommendation letter there are some points that you will want to avoid talking about.
- Keep the reference letter professional at all time avoiding jokes or using casual language
- Read the letter for spelling mistakes.
- Avoid unnecessary information about the candidate based on health, race, religion, age, nationality, marital status etc.
Do’s and Don’t’s when it comes to obtaining a reference
- Do get a letter of recommendation from anyone that can offer a first-hand look at your work ethic, skills, abilities etc. Preferably someone who likes you.
- Always send a thank you letter to the person who wrote you a reference letter
- Always letter the writer know what you need in the reference letter
- Always offer information that you would like in the letter about your various achievements or skills
- Do always get a written reference letter rather than an email submission.
- Get as many reference letters as you can because it will always benefit you.
- Do photocopy your reference letter and file it for future job opportunities
- Wait until the last minute to ask for a reference letter
- Don’t email someone for a reference letter, make a phone call or go see them in person.
- Don’t ask anyone to lie on your reference letter
- Don’t choose someone just because of their title as they might not give you the best reference letter
- Don’t forget to be courteous when asking for a reference letter
- Don’t ever create a fake reference letter with a forged signature
Reference Letter Sample and Template
Below is a Standard Reference Letter template from an employer that you can use or download this free word document Sample Reference Letter Recommendation Letter Example.
As you will notice the reference letter format is in paragraphs as described above and to the point.
You don’t need to make the letter a novel.
City, Postal Code
City, Postal Code
Dear Recipient Name:
(Insert Employee name) worked at (insert company name) for more than seven years. (Insert Employee name) began his employment as (Insert role in company). After three years, he was promoted to documentation manager. In that position, he reported to me and managed the work and performance of four employees.
(Insert Employee Name) is a bright and personable individual. He is highly self-motivated and well capable of achieving any goal he sets his mind to. (Insert Employee Name) quick promotion to documentation manager is an example of that. He learned new technologies promptly and applied them in his daily work. (Insert Company Name) soon perceived (Insert Employee Name) as a valuable resource and looked to him for innovative direction of our documentation set.
(Insert Employee Name) welcomes leadership opportunities and meets his deadlines on time.
(Insert Company Name) needs more employees like (Insert Employee Name). He is an asset to any company that hires him.
If you would like additional information about (Insert Employee Name), you can telephone me at (519) 555-1234.
Make A Difference As A Leader
Also consider that the above template can be used for a personal reference letter or any of the other reference letters listed above by filling in the pertinent information.
Your reference letter may improve successful opportunity to someone who is looking to move on, move out or move up in the career world so be honest and keep it as professional and to the point as you can.
I was fortunate that my last employer is affiliated with my current employer so there was no reference letter but I’m sure they chatted behind the scenes about me.
I did however present all of my reference letters from the UK like I mentioned at the start of this article which I obtained before moving to Canada.
Every little bit will help especially whether the job competition is fierce or not.
Discussion: What other reference letter tips can you provide to those who are reading this article looking for advice? Share your comments below as I love to read them.