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Reference Letter

A reference letter is formally referred to as a letter of reference. For simplicity, this article refers to it as a reference letter.

Reference Letters vs. Recommendation Letters

For job searching, reference letters are typically written by other than employment-related references, such as college professors, while recommendation letters are typically written by employment-related references, such as supervisors.

They are essentially the same otherwise, in that both types of letters would vouch for your integrity in some way, shape or form.

However, if properly written, each of the latter would include a specific recommendation to hire you, while each reference letter would only generally indicate that an employer would benefit from hiring you.

Additionally, recommendation letters carry more weight for seeking a job than reference letters do, because employment-related references typically write them; someone who's worked with you on the job will have more insight into your work habits, skills and such, than someone who knows you otherwise.

But, if you're short on employment-related references, such as when starting a new career after graduation, then that's when reference letters come into play. The same goes for post-graduate work toward an advanced college degree.

If one of your employment-related references is comfortable giving you good marks, but is uncomfortable further sticking his or her neck out with a specific recommendation to hire you, then a reference letter would come into play there too.

Reference Letter Advantages

Asking for a reference letter from each of your references has several advantages, the biggest of which is that you'll already know what each has to say about you.

Another advantage is that a potential employer might accept a reference letter in place of grilling one of your references. The less often your references must sit in the hot seat, the more likely they are to cooperate.

If a potential employer does accept a reference letter in place of grilling the person who wrote it for you, then it also removes the risk that he or she might be unreachable or having a lousy day. All it takes to lose a job opportunity is one unreachable or curt reference.

A reference letter might put a potential employer at ease, too. Employers are concerned about getting involved in defamation lawsuits resulting from poor references.

So, if you give a potential employer a reference letter that praises your performance, then you're also giving the employer the options to reduce liability and hire you more quickly, by skipping or limiting a reference check on you.

Next Page > Who to Ask for a Reference Letter
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