How to Create the Right References for Job Applications - dummies

How to Create the Right References for Job Applications

By Joyce Lain Kennedy

Without question, little today does more to put a high shine on your job search than strong positive statements others have expressed about your abilities and work value. The following strategies, tactics, and document samples can make that happy glow happen for you:

  • Reference lists

  • Reference commentaries

  • Job search letter quotes

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Personal character references

  • Social media references

Reference commentaries

A reference commentary (also called a recommendation report) is a modern format that often appears as a one- to two-page document of short testimonial quotes. Each quote is expressed in no more than a few sentences. The quotes are similar in style to the laudatory blurbs about a book or an author that appear on book jackets.

A reference commentary is useful in multiple phases of your job search, from initial contact through the interview stage. For example, you can present a reference commentary early in an interview, using it as an ice-breaker to kick off conversation and set up a favorable impression during the interview. Say something like this:

I’m assuming that at some point you may want to check my references. In the meantime, this commentary reflects a quick glance at the endorsements of people who know my work as it relates to this position.

Typically, a commentary features a half-dozen or so blurbs — each one focuses on a different selling point about you. Blurbs appear on pages that maximize white space, for speed reading. Some reference commentaries are pitched in straightforward, linear designs. Others are eye-catching, with creative, abstract touches.

The reference commentary is a first-impression marketing tool; it supplements but does not replace full letters of reference from former employers and associates.


[Credit: Louise Garver, CPBS, JCTC, CMP, CPRW, CEIP — Broad Brook, Conn.]
Credit: Louise Garver, CPBS, JCTC, CMP, CPRW, CEIP — Broad Brook, Conn.

Job search letter quotes

In addition to creating a reference commentary, you can add luster to virtually any of your job search letters with blurbs that zero in on your potential contribution to the type of job you seek. Consider a couple blurb examples:

Arthur is the go-to leader in his mastery of state agency financing policy.

Her helpfulness and sunny disposition make Nadine my number one choice when I choose a check-out register at my supermarket.

Letters of recommendation

A letter of recommendation isn’t wildly effective, but it’s better than nothing in cases when a company disappears, your boss dies, or a reference is difficult to contact. Begin now to round up praise in a reference folder, also called a reference dossier. Routinely collect a letter of recommendation whenever you, a supervisor, or a coworker says goodbye.

A recommendation letter affirms your experience and competence, and adds credibility. An excellent letter provides some combination of the following:

  • Introduces the recommender, explaining the recommender’s basis of knowledge for your reference

  • Confirms dates and job title(s)

  • Identifies skills, competencies, and other qualifications that make you an ideal candidate for a potential employer

  • Describes your performance and attitude

  • Highlights several of your exceptional qualities, using examples

Consider this excerpt of an effective employment recommendation letter:

Jane was able to develop her assertiveness skills under my supervision. When she first came into the department as a payroll clerk, she was not as assertive as was necessary in dealing with the other departments.

After taking an assertiveness course and developing great self-confidence, Jane was able to develop her conflict-resolution skills, and she was promoted twice in the accounting department before leaving the company to take a manager’s position elsewhere.

I highly recommend Jane for her willingness to work on areas in which she needed improvement.

This example — straightforward and sincere — praises a quality of interest to all employers: Willing worker accepts criticism and takes steps to improve job performance.

[Credit: Jane Roqueplot, CPBA, CWDP, CECC — West Middlesex, Pa.]
Credit: Jane Roqueplot, CPBA, CWDP, CECC — West Middlesex, Pa.
[Credit: Debbie Ellis, MRW, Phoenix Career Group — Houston, Texas]
Credit: Debbie Ellis, MRW, Phoenix Career Group — Houston, Texas

Personal character references

Employment references come from people who are directly familiar with your work. By contrast, personal references discuss your positive personal attributes. They’re written by people who typically are familiar with your behavior outside the workplace.

Although employment references are the heavy hitters in the hiring game, personal references have their uses, as job searching guide Alison Doyle explains:

If your work record isn’t perfect, you can bolster your candidacy with a good character reference. If you are looking for your first job, you can use personal references instead of employment references.

Sources of personal references

Who do you ask to write a personal reference for you? You have many prospects, including the following categories of people who know the real you:

  • Relatives and friends

  • Neighbors and acquaintances

  • Coworkers and trade association acquaintances

  • Businesspeople and professionals

  • Fellow religious worshipers

  • Fellow volunteers at nonprofits

  • Professors, teachers, and sports coaches and teammates

Content of personal references

What should a personal reference say? When commenting on general qualities, give an example. One page of several paragraphs is usually adequate. Among the personal attributes your recommender can comment on are the following:

Capable Helpful Persistent
Charming Intelligent Punctual
Confident Motivated Reliable
Conscientious Observant Stylish
Creative Optimistic Trustworthy
Social media references

You can find all the types of references and recommendations on the social media channels of information distribution.

Whether you ask for personal or employment recommendations on social media, be selective by tapping well-regarded recommenders whom you know well — or who at least know the quality of your work.

Recommendations found on social media are like money in the bank because people risk their own good names by choosing to go public to recommend you. These people have worked with you, supervised you, done business with you, or have some reason to know how special you are and can verify that you are who you say you are.