Tips on Reference Letters

Basic Issues

  • Gather the information you need prior to writing your letter.
  • Can you honestly provide a reference that the student employee would want? If you cannot provide a "good" reference, be honest with the student and share with them your reservations. Be direct and let them know the type of reference you can be for them. If you do write items that are less than positive, the issues must be well documented and not of a personal nature. Your best option is to not provide a letter if you cannot be supportive of their candidacy.
  • If you are asked to write a letter and you agree to write it, you are responsible for getting it done. Ask the student/employee for a deadline. People are counting on your support to get jobs or gain entry to graduate school. Missed deadlines or lack of action may impact their status.
  • Make each letter unique for each student. While you may have a number of letters to write, do well by each student.

Tools for Writing the Recommendation Letter

In order to provide a well written recommendation letter, you need to start with some basic information. Ask the student employee for the following items prior to writing your letter.

  • Copy of the student's résumé
  • Copy of the position to which the student is applying for or information about the graduate school/scholarship in order to build your letter to effectively show their skills in relation to what the school/employer is looking for
  • A conversation with the student asking why they are interested in this option? What excited them about it? Why do they think they are qualified?
  • Ask for a deadline and honor it

Writing a letter of recommendation is not an easy task and must be taken seriously. It can mean the difference between being hired or being rejected. The following are suggestions on how to be an effective evaluator.


  • Utilize your department's official letterhead.
  • Provide a generic beginning to any reference letter.


  • Indicate the applicant's name and the position they are applying for.
  • Include your affiliation/relationship with the person. Were you a supervisor? Advisor? Professor?
  • Describe your qualifications for comparing the applicant to other applicants.
  • Discuss how well you know the applicant.

Body of Letter

  • Direct the body of your letter to the most important things listed in the job description, graduate application, scholarship letter.
  • Support your comments with examples, quantify your examples (what resulted from their work), and avoid generalities.
  • Concentrate on several aspects of the person. Specifically identify his/her skills, attitudes, professional attributes and growth, as well as his/her contributions to and performance within your organization. Give examples of their contribution.
  • Keep it concise. The people who receive these letters most likely have a number to review.


  • Close with the applicant's potential in his or her chosen field.
  • Type your recommendation letter. Appearance of the letter is a reflection on both you and the candidate.

Letter of Recommendation Worksheet

(Give copies of this worksheet to the people who will write letters of recommendation for you)

To: (Name of person who will write the letter)

From: (Name of student/alumnus)

RE: Letter of Recommendation for: Employment

Date Needed:

Please address this letter to: the name and address below:

First Paragraph: State that the letter of recommendation is for me and that I am applying for the following type of work:

Second Paragraph: State the nature of our relationship, the length of time you have known me and the types of assignments, projects, work or other experience we shared.

Third Paragraph: Please give some detail about my skills, talents, abilities or personal qualities. In addition, please describe one or two accomplishments that would be of interest to the potential employer listed above. Here are some skills, talents, abilities you may want to cover:

Here are some accomplishments to which you may want to refer (please see my attached résumé for additional information):

Final Paragraph: Please state how you can be reached for more information if you are willing to be contacted.

Sample Letter of Reference

Superb Supervisor

Graphics Arts Department

Missouri State University-West Plains

128 Garfield Ave.
West Plains, MO 65775

February 5, 2015

John Brown
Director of Everyone
WWW Corporation1111 Easy Street
Nice, MO 65745


Dear Mr. Brown:


It is with great enthusiasm that I write a recommendation for Susie Park for the position of Graphic Artist. I have had the pleasure of being Ms. Park's direct supervisor for the past two years. In that time, I have had the opportunity to view her ability to accomplish tasks in a timely manner, develop creative and unique displays and to support difficult implementation of web designs. In my 15 years in the graphic arts area supervising over 25 student workers, Ms. Parks is a student who has made a significant contribution to our area.

[Body of Letter:]

Ms. Parks single-handedly developed a new webpage to interact with students and staff focusing on recycling and its impact on the campus community. This multi-level website included detailed questions and answers on the subject, relevant notations on recycling sites and notations on further materials..

Ms. Parks, upon her own initiative, is self-taught on various publishing programs. This skill has come in handy on a number of occasions when we needed assistance in producing brochures, information on office resources and organizing other data in our program.

Not only are Ms. Park's programming and presentation skills extraordinary, but her organizational skills are also exemplary. She has been instrumental in developing a new method of organizing volunteer hours in her recycling efforts which has optimized the talents of the volunteers with the times they are most needed.


As you can see, we have been delighted with the work of Ms. Parks. If you are looking for an organized and articulate person to help as a graphic artist in the area of web design, I can think of no better candidate than Susie Park. Please feel free to contact me if you need additional information.



Superb Supervisor
Graphic Arts Department