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What To Say in a Referral Letter for a Job

Employers often rely on referral letters, or letters of recommendation, to give them a clearer picture of a job applicant's capabilities. If an individual asks you for such a letter, think carefully before agreeing. If you don't know the person well enough to give him specific praise, or don't have enough time to compose your thoughts, your letter will not help him. If you agree to write a letter, be honest and list specific skills the job seeker can bring to the new workplace.

Professional Introduction

Make your introduction as professional as any other business letter. Greet the recipient formally unless you know him well enough to be on a first-name basis. Use your opening sentence to catch the reader's attention. Let him know you are pleased or honored to write this letter and mention the job candidate by name. Use the active voice in your introduction, as passive sentence structure can bore your reader or discourage him from reading the rest of the letter.

Use Specifics

In the main body of your letter, list specific traits and skills that you believe the candidate possesses. Back up your statements with examples. Avoid generic praise such as "Ms. Smith is an excellent worker" or "Mr. Jones has a lot of skills you can use," as these communicate little information to the reader and might even imply that the candidate doesn't have any real skills for you to refer to.

Strong Closing

Keep your closing to one or two sentences and state directly that you recommend the candidate for the position. If you know the exact title of the position the candidate is applying for, mention the job title by name in your closing to make the recommendation feel less generic. Thank the reader for his time at the end of the letter. This is not only a professional thing to do but demonstrates basic courtesy, which is sometimes in short supply in the business world.

Keep It Brief

Human resource directors and managers don't have time to read long letters of recommendation. Even if your three-page letter glows with praise for the candidate, a long letter will work against him because the manager will only remember how much time it took to read. Summarize skills or mention only two to three important skills if you want to give more praise than you have room for. Keeping your letter to one page demonstrates respect for the recipient's time and helps bolster the candidate's credibility.


Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.