Monday, April 12, 2010

Reference Letters Demystified

Regardless of where you are in your career, a critical component to your arsenal of marketing collateral is the ‘Letter of Reference’.
Reference letters fall into six categories:

  • Academic Letters of Recommendation - These letters are used by students during the college admissions process. During admissions phase of the application, most schools, undergraduate and graduate, alike, expect to see at least one, preferably two or three, recommendation letters for each applicant.

    Normally, these college-related recommendation letters are written at the request of the program applicant by people who know the person making the request and are familiar with their academic career to date, and their future education and career aspirations. These people typically include former teachers, community leaders, school faculty members, administrators, academic supervisors, and/or employers.

  • Employment Letters of Recommendation - These letters are used by jobseekers during employment interviews. Most employers ask job candidates for at least three references. Therefore, it's a good idea for jobseekers to have at least three recommendation letters.

    Generally, employment recommendation letters include information about employment history, job performance, work ethic, and personal accomplishments. The person the letter is being written about specifically requests this type of employment-related letter. These letters are usually positive in nature, and written by someone who knows the subject well enough to comment on the skills, abilities, and specific work attributes of the individual making the request.

    Typically, an employment-related recommendation letter conveys a supervisor’s view of the work performance and general workplace demeanour of the person making the request. The requestor of this type of letter will use it when applying for a promotion or a new job.

    These letters are usually addressed to a specific person to whom the requestor has been asked to submit the letter.

  • Employment Reference Letters - These letters, sometimes called ‘tombstone reference letters’ are more general letters that are often requested by employees when they leave the employ of an organization. These letters are typically issued from the human resources department, are factual in nature, and they are usually addressed, "To whom it may concern".

    These letters provide basic information such as work history, dates of employment, positions held, in-house training, academic credentials, etc.

  • Character Reference Letters - These letters are often used for housing accommodations, legal situations, child adoption, and other similar situations where character may be called into question. These recommendation letters are often written by former employers, landlords, business associates, neighbours, doctors, acquaintances, etc. The most appropriate person to ask for a character reference letter varies depending upon for what the letter of recommendation will be used.

    Character reference letters are sometimes required by employers when hiring individuals to perform personal or residential services such as child care, domestic services, etc.

    These letters are usually drafted by a former employer and deal with such attributes as honesty, dependability, and work ethic/performance.

  • Letters of Commendation – These are normally unsolicited letters, which typically commend an employee to their supervisor for something outstanding or noteworthy that the employee has done. Usually, the employee would have to do something “above and beyond” what is normally expected of them in their job to warrant such a letter.

    Commendation letters are also used to nominate individuals for special awards of recognition for outstanding public service. These letters are usually written by co-workers, or managers from another area of the organization who were suitably impressed while supervising the person on a short- term project

  • Performance evaluation – These are usually detailed assessments of an employee's work performance as part of an organization's regular employee review process. Typically, these letters are written by the employee's supervisor and are attached to the individual's performance appraisal and placed in their personnel file.

    The format and structure for this type of letter is usually dictated by the employee performance evaluation system or process that is in-place wherever the subject of the letter is employed.

Regardless of the terminology, all letters, written either on a personal or business basis, are critical because they directly influence the workplace or community. Therefore, it is best to know what you are asking for and from whom.