How to Use a Reference Letter in a Job Search

by Robinson, Marcia Wednesday, October 19, 2011
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Knowing how to use a reference letter in a job search is good strategy. A reference letter could be the thing that sets you apart from the other applicants. Job seekers who want a competitive advantage should definitely consider using a reference letter or two in the job search.

Although recruiters have their own biases when reading a reference letter in the job search, most agree that using a reference letter the wrong way can do more harm than good. Just as job seekers use resumes and cover letters to brag about their skills and abilities, a reference letter can do the same. Except In the case of the reference letter, it is a third party, a trusted colleague or fellow professional who is bragging about your skills.

One mistake job seekers make when considering using a reference letter is to think that these letters have no value especially for employers who conduct background screenings. Job seekers should remember that employers will just do background screening on final candidates. Since your goal is to be that final candidate with the job offer, a reference letter could increase your chances. In some industries, like Higher Education, Healthcare and Research, a reference letter brings a lot of credibility to a job search. These industries will often ask for two or three reference letters. Job seekers who don't use a reference letter, in these industries generally won't be interviewed.

Another reference letter mistake is that job seekers don't tell the writer about the job. You want the writer to know how and why you want a reference letter to support your job application. If you are not specific with the writer, reference letters could be generic and useless. If the writer does not know about the specific job, the reference letter could be disconnected from the job announcement. This is an easy problem to solve. Just make sure the writer has a copy of the job announcement before they write the reference letter.

Reference letters that are written about specific positions are usually no good for other jobs. Some job seekers make the mistake of using a good reference letter many times. Hiring managers and recruiters know when a reference letter has been around the block and know when they are receiving a copy of an already faded copy. Even generic reference letters, should be used soon after they are written. When using a generic reference letter, try and use it within the calendar year.

Other tips for using a reference letter in the job search are:

-Using only a well written reference letter without too many enthusiastic exaggerations

-Use a reference letter on professional letterhead or from a company email account.

-A reference letter should state clearly if it is being written by a supervisor, a peer or a subordinate.