A referral letter can impact the career trajectory of a close friend or former co-worker. That's why when someone trusts you with this responsibility, you need to understand the correct steps to writing a referral letter. In this article, we discuss what a referral letter is, the different types and how to write a referral letter using a template and example.
What is a referral letter?
A referral letter, also known as a reference letter or a letter of recommendation, is a positive endorsement of a person's skills, experience and qualifications. You may ask someone who is familiar with your character and background to write a referral letter for you when applying for a job, internship, higher education or volunteering opportunity.
If you are a manager or supervisor, you will definitely write a reference letter for a former team member sometime in your career. This is an important document that will act as evidence of their experience with you. In it, you may elaborate on their work projects and the results they achieved.
A referral letter is important because most recruiters hold this document in high regard. Recruiters trust referral letters because they come from an objective third-party. The fact that the writer was willing to make an effort to endorse you immediately suggests that you were a valuable asset to them.
Types of referral letters
There are three types of referral letters, each one serving its own purpose. Written by different people, the three types of referral letters listed below focus on different aspects of your character and reveal unique insights:
A teacher or professor usually writes an academic referral letter. It highlights a student's educational experience and strengths, such as their grades, attendance, class participation and examples of noteworthy work.
Personal references or character references are from friends, relatives, clients or even mentors. They attest to your skills and abilities through their personal interactions with you. This kind of recommendation acts as a testament to the values and principles you uphold. It tells an employer that they can trust your professional judgement.
A former employer or co-worker writes an employment referral letter. This type of letter includes information about your employment history, job performance, work ethic and professional accomplishments. They prove to recruiters that you are a capable employee. For our purposes, we will focus on employment referral letters.
How to write a referral letter
If a colleague has asked you to write a referral letter, it's important to follow a few steps to ensure you're writing the most effective recommendation possible. Your writing can impact whether they get hired; therefore, you need to take care when structuring your points to ensure it sounds genuine. Here's how to write a referral letter:
1. Outline your plan
Before you write, you need to have a solid plan for the content of your letter. Speak to your co-worker or friend about the goals they have in mind. Ask them for a copy of the job description to help you plan discussion points for your referral letter. Inquire about any projects or achievements they would like you to write about too.
Use this information to outline the skills and work experience you want to emphasise in your referral letter. Make sure your content is honest and comes from your own personal experience with the candidate.
2. Address the recipient
Ask the subject of your referral letter to provide the contact details of the letter's recipient. Address the recipient directly by name using a professional greeting, such as 'Dear Ms. First name'. If the candidate doesn't have their complete details, simply write, 'Dear Hiring Manager'. As a general rule, it's best to personalise a business letter as much as possible.
3. Introduce yourself
The first paragraph of your referral letter should address two key topics; who you are and the purpose of your writing. It's important to present yourself as a reputable referee from the start. Thus, remember to include your job title, company name and relationship with the candidate. Keep this section short at only one to two sentences so that you can use the bulk of your letter to talk about more important points.
Example: I am thrilled to recommend Laura Smith for the guest experience manager position at your company. As the brand director of ABC company, I had the pleasure of being a first-hand witness to her work ethic and potential.
4. Summarise the candidate's strengths
Your next sentence should present an overview of the skills and abilities you intend to elaborate on in your writing. To keep your referral letter concise, focus on three fundamental characteristics that you believe best summarises your experience with them. Refer to the job description again to check that the mentioned skills are transferrable to the candidate's future employer. For example, if the candidate is applying for a managerial position, focus on their leadership qualities.
5. Share examples of the candidate's skills
The main body of your referral letter should explain what the candidate can contribute to the role. Be specific and use relevant examples to describe how they have demonstrated the strengths you stated earlier. This illustrates to the recipient that the candidate can apply their talents to real-life situations.
6. End with a closing statement
In your closing paragraph, offer your opinion about the candidate. Emphasise their positive traits to pinpoint why they should hire the individual. Remember to share your contact details so that they can easily follow-up with you on questions they may have. This is also a great networking opportunity for potential partnerships in the future.
7. Leave a signature
At the end of the letter of referral, sign your name and state your job title underneath. You can use a digital signature for an email. However, it's good practice to provide a handwritten signature to authenticate the document. This increases your letter's validity.
Referral letter template
Writing a referral letter is straightforward because you can use the same basic format for a job, internship, a college application or volunteer position. Here's a referral letter template you can use as a guide to ensure you include all the relevant sections:
[Your job title]
[Name of company]
[Address of company]
[Name of company]
[Address of company]
It is my pleasure to recommend [candidate] for the [position or opportunity].
I am [your name] and I am a [your position] at [your company or institution]. I have known [candidate] for [number of years] years and I have gotten to know [candidate's pronoun] quite well. During our time [what you did with the candidate] together, [candidate's pronoun] has shown me what a [adjective] individual [candidate's pronoun] is.
While I [what you did with the candidate] with [candidate], I got to learn [candidate's pronoun] strengths, talents and skills. I was particularly impressed with [candidate's pronoun] ability to [skill]. [Explain why skill was noticeable]. [candidate]'s ability to [strength, talent or skill] is also something I will always remember.
[Insert an example or story about each strength, talent or skill mentioned].
When I learned that [candidate] applied to [position or opportunity], I immediately encouraged [candidate's pronoun] decision to do so. I believe that [candidate's pronoun] has the background and experience to make [candidate's pronoun] the perfect fit for this opportunity.
If you have any questions about [candidate]'s abilities or experiences with me, please contact me. I am more than happy to further discuss why I can confidently say [candidate's pronoun] will make a good fit for this [company or institution].
Referral letter sample
The following is a referral letter sample for your reference:
Director of Flight Operations
123 Main Street,
November 23, 2020
Director of Human Resources
123 Business Lane,
Dear Ms. May,
It is my pleasure to recommend Julian Richards for the position of First Officer at XYZ Airlines.
I am Ben Walker and I am the Director of Flight Operations at ABC Airways. I have known Julian for over four years and I have gotten to know him quite well. During our time flying together for ABC Airways, he has shown me what a driven individual he is.
While I worked with Julian, I got to learn his strengths, talents and skills. I was particularly impressed with his ability to understand aircraft systems and remain calm under pressure. He has always demonstrated his determination to learn from feedback and even takes part in additional training simulations to improve his technical skills. Julian's ability to clearly communicate in the cockpit is also something I will always remember.
One example of Julian's effective aircraft management skills was during a recent routine flight to Melbourne. Despite low visibility, he could confidently navigate the aircraft with the aid of aircraft instruments. He gave explicit instructions to the crew and remained committed to safety procedures during the challenging approach.
When I learned that Julian applied to XYZ Airlines, I immediately encouraged his decision to do so. I believe that he has the background and experience to make him the perfect fit for this opportunity.
If you have any questions about Julian's abilities or experiences with me, please contact me. I am more than happy to further discuss why I can confidently say he will make a good fit for this airline.
Director of Flight Operations