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Difference Between a Reference & Recommendation Letter

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A letter of reference and a letter of recommendation may sound like the same thing, but there are subtle differences between the two that distinguish them from one another.


A letter of recommendation is usually written by someone who has a professional relationship with you, such as a supervisor or professor at school. These people can attest to your work ethic and job performance. A letter of reference is written by someone with a close, personal relationship to you. This person can give an accurate character description and talk about any general knowledge a person might be inquiring about.


The content of a recommendation letter focuses on achievements, awards and job performance. It will detail the responsibilities you have, as well as how you perform under pressure and any special talents you utilize at work or school. A letter of reference will focus on more personal traits and discuss you as a person rather than a worker. You social interactions might be detailed, as well as how you relate to others.


A letter of recommendation is usually written to a specific person for a specific reason. The most common author of a recommendation letter is a current or prior supervisor or teacher. The author of the letter may choose to give you the letter personally or send the letter to the prospective employee himself. A letter of reference is usually a more general letter that can be used for many different purposes. This letter may not have a specific recipient and be addressed more generally.

Reasons for Letter

A letter of recommendation is usually written for a prospective job or admission to an academic program. This letter can also be written if you are being recommended for a promotion at work or during an evaluation for a raise. A letter of reference can be used for job and school purposes, but is generally an accompaniment to the recommendation letter to further enhance the information by providing personal character information to back up any professional claims.


Michelle Blessing has experience in child development, parenting, social relationships and mental health, enhanced by her work as a clinical therapist and parent educator. Blessing's work has appeared in various online publications. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and is pursuing her master's degree in psychology with a specialization in applied behavior analysis.