Faculty & Staff

Reference Letters

Writing Recommendation Letters

Almost everyone is asked to write a reference letter at some time during their career. Whether it's for a student, colleague or someone you've worked with, it is important to be prepared to write an effective letter of recommendation. It's equally important to be ready to say "no" if you're not comfortable making a recommendation on  someones behalf.

When You Have Nothing Positive to Say

It's actually in the person's best interest for you to politely decline writing a reference letter if you can't provide more than a wishy-washy endorsement. A less than positive reference can cause as much harm as a negative reference. Employers are usually good at reading between the lines and will pick up on what you're not saying.

If you decline, the person can move on to another reference who may be able to provide a glowing recommendation. A simple way out is to say that you are not familiar enough with their work or background to provide a reference. That way you can minimize any potential hurt feelings.

Request Information

If you're thrilled to be asked, but not sure what to say, ask the person for a copy of their resume and a list of accomplishments. This will give you guidelines to use when composing a letter. Start by describing how long you've known the person and in what capacity. Include dates of employment and details on how you've worked with (or known) the person.

Include Details

Continue by describing the person's skills and performance and what makes them an ideal candidate for a potential new employer or graduate program. Also include two or three outstanding attributes. End by summarizing why you are recommending this person. You may also want to provide a phone number or email address so employers can follow up if they have questions or want more information.