Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter: What You Need To Know

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Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter: What You Need To Know

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Learn the Differences: Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter

Reference letter vs recommendation letter, which one do you actually need? This term can be so confusing that even some of the so-called writing experts can get it wrong. 

Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter

If a prospective new employer requests a reference letter, what should you include?

Employers and employees, companies, and other organizations use the terms reference letter or recommendation letter interchangeably, yet, there is a difference. In this article, we will explain the differences and when to use each of them.

Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter Definitions?

But first, let’s take a look at the definitions of a reference letter vs a recommendation letter:

Reference letters:

A reference letter is usually the more informal of the two. It often starts with “Dear Hiring Manager,” “To whom it may concern,” or “Dear Sir/Madam.” These letters are often requested by recent graduates or employees leaving their jobs. The copies can be kept for future, general use.

Examples of when you use a reference letter include:

  • When you are applying for a job;
  • As a character appraisal;
  • When applying for further study;
  • Or for general purpose applications.

Recommendation letter:

A recommendation letter is the more formal of the two. It is usually written at the request of an employer or academic body, and so should be addressed to that person or organization. These types of requested recommendation letters are not usually seen by the prospective employee or student.

Examples of when a recommendation letter is requested include:

  • When you are applying for a job;
  • When requesting admission to college or university;
  • If someone is looking for a recommendation or a positive opinion;
  • To confirm performance and achievements.

As you can see, the two are interchangeable; however, it is important to note the different styles.

Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter: Which one should you use and when?

While you may directly submit a reference letter may with your application, a recommendation letter is requested by the potential employer or university admission board.

Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter

As a general rule, you will need to supply contactable referees when you are applying for a new position. You can include their contact information in your resume or by filling out an application form. The referee should be a person or company who is easy to reach and be in a position to provide a reference during a reference check. They can then provide a reference by phone or by writing an email or a recommendation letter.

However, it is worth noting that many colleges and organisations may request a reference letter when they mean a recommendation letter and vice versa. So always make sure you clearly understand their terminology and answer any specific requests. 

How to request a letter from a previous employer or teacher

Before you request a reference or recommendation letter, you need to think carefully about who you are going to ask. Ideally, it should be someone who will write positively about you and know you well. Make sure you choose people with whom you have developed a good relationship. But don’t include family members, as this may seem unprofessional.

If you have recently graduated, choose former teachers or mentors with whom you have developed a good rapport.

If you have been employed before, choose former bosses, supervisors, or team leaders who are familiar with your work history, strengths, and weaknesses.

Requesting a reference letter:

To request a reference letter, always give ample notice and remember to include the following: 

  • A brief introduction explaining your need for a reference.
  • A quick summary of your role. This may include the dates for which you worked for the company, the nature of your job, plus any unique or outstanding contributions you made while you were there.
  • The deadline by which you need to submit the reference.
  • Sincere ‘thanks in advance’ for helping you with the reference.
  • Your contact information.

Requesting a recommendation letter:

The request for a recommendation letter will normally come from the prospective employer or institution you are applying to. So it is important to choose someone who knows you well. However, it is more important to let the person know that you are including them as a referee so that the request does not come as an unwelcome surprise!

Remember to always ask the person who you want as a reference first. In addition, keep that person informed about when you are applying for a position, and keep them up to date about the results. 

Reference Letter vs Recommendation Letter: What do you include?

While the definitions of a reference letter vs a recommendation letter are quite different, there is information that should be included in both:

Difference Between a Reference & Recommendation Letter
  • An introduction by the referee to establish their relationship with you. This can include their position, how long they have known you and an overall general impression.
  • While a letter of reference will list your skills, a letter of recommendation should explain why you are the right candidate for the position.
  • Both should address a person’s work ethic, skills, and other important personality traits.

Quick Summary: Reference letter vs recommendation letter

  • Choose the person or your referee with care – make sure that it is someone who knows you well and will write a positive review.
  • Provide that person or referee with all the information they need. This can include your resume, details about your work or study experiences, and details about the new position you are applying for.
  • A reference letter is a general letter that is written in advance, and copies can be used at a later date.
  • A recommendation letter is addressed to the person or entity that has requested it and is more specific to the position applied for.
  • Always thank your referee in advance, and make sure that they know you appreciate their input.  

Other Resources:

CustomersFirst Academy offers comprehensive customer service training designed to help you grow your skills and advance your career.

To keep learning and developing your knowledge of customer service, we highly recommend the additional resources below:

How To Write A Successful Customer Service Cover Letter (Includes Free Sample)
How to Write a Short Resignation Letter (FREE Sample)
Write a Winning Customer service manager resume (FREE Sample)
How to Host a Successful Lunch and Learn

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