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Writing a Reference Letter for a Friend or Colleague

Nearly everyone needs a reference letter at some point in their life, whether it be to get accepted into a degree program, apply for an apartment, or try to score a new job. If someone has ever written one for you, it’s only right to pass that along and write one for your another friend or colleague! Here’s a list of everything you should include in a professional reference letter.

A heading.

All formal letters should have a heading at the top left of the page, containing your full name, contact information, and the date the letter was written. Below that, include a formal greeting, and if you know the name of the person the letter will be addressed to (i.e., a leasing agent or a hiring manager) then be sure to include that as well.

How you know the applicant.

It might come off as disingenuous or shady if you just write about someone without mentioning how or why you know them. You want to include specific details so that whoever receives the letter will understand and believe what you’re telling them. If they worked with you at a previous job, or even if they’re just a friend you met in college, include that – as well as things they’ve helped you with, or challenges you’ve seen them face.

Some of their relevant qualities or skills.

Whether you’ve worked together, or you only know them as a friend, include some details about the skills and qualities that may help them get the job or be accepted to a program. Maybe you’ve seen how attentive and organized they are in their day-to-day life, or maybe they’re extremely prompt when it comes to showing up for important events. Maybe you’ve seen them manage a team of a dozen people expertly while working on a project or juggle several important tasks at once. Whatever it is, make sure it's something that will relate to the position, apartment, program, etc., that they’re applying for.

Invitation to them to contact you further if they have questions.

Finally, make sure to let the addressee know that they are welcome to contact you if they have any questions about your friend or colleague, and that you’d be happy to share more information with them if they choose to do so. Be sure to leave a phone number and/or an email address where they can reach you.

What if you're asked to write a reference letter?

It’s okay to say no.

If you aren’t comfortable endorsing someone’s skills or qualifications, it’s okay to politely decline. You may not know someone well enough to know about their skills or have too much on your plate to add another task. Just let them know that you can’t complete one right now, and that you wish them good luck in their endeavors.

Avoid writing too formally, but also avoid writing too personally.

While this letter is technically formal, be sure to add a bit of personality so that it doesn’t come across as stuffy. You’re a human writing about a relationship you have with someone else, so make sure you sound like one! You should still sound polite and professional, but throwing in a funny, family-friendly anecdote that has to do with your friend’s skills couldn’t hurt.

Happy writing!


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