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Employers use numerous tools for screening and evaluating potential hires. Letters help present candidates in an attractive light; mentioning that you have references to confirm your character and upright moral standing can help sweeten your desirability for the position. However, the cover letter should focus on your own accomplishments – character references can submit their own individual letters later, at an employer’s request.
Types of Letters
Cover letters are among the first points of contacts to an employer. Your cover letter describes your background, accomplishments, qualifications and why you’re the best candidate for the available position. Near the letter’s conclusion, you can state that your references are available for contact and that they look forward to sharing their positive experiences with your work. Later, your employer might request that you submit letters of recommendation from references attesting to your character. References might submit these directly to your employer, meaning that you’ll waive your right to preview their statements. In some cases, this makes for stronger recommendations because employers will know that you didn’t prescreen the information.
Candidates to Ask
Not all references are created equal. Choose individuals who know you professionally or quasi-professionally – for example, a board member for a volunteer organization for which you work closely. Previous employers, professors for recent college graduates, and professional mentors all make effective character references. Although these people might speak to your strong morals and ethics, consider carefully before asking a minister or clergy member to write your letter of recommendation. They might not be the best candidates to speak about your professional capabilities. Ask people who have known you for a long time; these appear as stronger testaments to your track record compared to people whom you have just met.
Candidates to Avoid
Employers look askance when receiving letters from your friends and family members. Even if they are professional and know you professionally, it’s less likely that they’ll be able to take a neutral, disciplined stance when evaluating your character. Your employer might wonder why you don’t have other professionals ready to confirm your good standing; it might appear as if previous employers or mentors were unwilling to discuss your character. Don’t take a chance that a friend won’t mention your personal relationship; it might take just one awkward pause or misstatement to throw the whole reference into question.
Before Submitting the Letter
Before submitting a cover letter to employers that mentions character references by name, contact each person individually to give them a heads up. If an employer calls and your reference is surprised to be contacted, or provides an unprepared response, this won’t reflect strongly on your candidacy. Check that your reference’s contact information is still current – a phone extension or email address might have changed since you last worked together.
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Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.
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