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List of Professional References and Letters of Recommendation – Are They Still Necessary?

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Posted in Blog

Phone References and Recommendation Letters - Still Necessary?In today’s online digital marketplace, phone references and recommendation letters are often dismissed as not important to your career success.  That leads to a very good question: “Do you need Letters of Recommendation at this point in your career?”

Simply, the answer is you don’t NEED them. However, you do WANT them. Why? When you’re in a competitive interviewing situation (and what interviewing situation is NOT competitive?), having Letters of Recommendation can really “give you an edge.”

For example, when two or more candidates are equally qualified, the candidate who provides the strongest Letters of Recommendation at the later stages of the interview process will usually get the offer! So, why NOT have this “extra ammunition” in your career arsenal?

By the way, you should secure at least 3 or 4 solid Letters of Recommendation; and 5-7 people on your List of Professional References.

How to get your “Phone Reference People” on board and receive your Letters of Recommendation

1. Make a list of all the people you want to ask for help.

2. Separate them into two categories – one group to write Letters of Recommendation; the other to serve as phone references. (This is usually based on their personality – are they “better writers” or “better talkers?”)

3. Call and ask them all for their help, stating exactly what you want them to do, and soliciting their participation.

4. Send them each a packet, including these four items: Cover Letter, Professional Biography, Resume and List of Target Companies. Your cover letter will include a bullet list of the specific attributes or experiences you want them to focus on in their letter or phone call. NOTE: the cover letter you send to the “letter writers” will be slightly different from the letter you send to the “phone reference people.”

5. Follow-up to be sure they received everything and that they fully understand your documents.

6. Tell the “phone reference people” to inform you immediately when they receive any calls from prospective employers. (This information will be very valuable to you!)

7. Tell the “letter writers” that you want to review their “rough drafts” and “check them for accuracy.” Later, instruct them to print-out the final Letters of Recommendation on company letterhead (after you have edited the text, as needed).

8. Offer to help each of these participants in a similar capacity, should the need ever arise in their own careers.

Letters of Recommendation – More Guidelines

Here are some guidelines for you to provide to the writers of your Letters of Recommendation:

  • Print the final letter on your company letterhead. If your employer does not permit you to write such letters on company letterhead, then please use your personal letterhead.

NOTE: you could create a simple letterhead for them if they don’t have one (name, address, phone, e-mail at top of the sheet). 

  • Do not date the letter, and do not include any salutation (there should be no “Dear _____”). Also, do not write, “To Whom it May Concern,” or “Dear Sir/Madam.”
  • Keep the letter fairly brief, and never more than one page.

Also give the following instructions to the people who will be writing your Letters of Recommendation (adapted to your own name/situation/background):

1.  The first paragraph should say something like:  “I am writing to you on behalf of my former colleague, Sally M. Smith. I had the privilege of working with her from 19XX to 20XX, when she was the (title) of (company XYZ).” Use your own words.

2.  In the 2nd paragraph, mention some specifics that you recall about me:  “As the (title/company), Sally directed the strategic planning process for our division and led the market forecasting. Her forecasts were instrumental in a number of projects. Sally actively contributed to the composites industry by doing (A, B and C). She consistently demonstrated (words such as leadership, problem-solving, communication, follow-through, analysis, organization are good to use). Throughout her tenure with company XYZ, she proved herself to be a _______ and _________ team player.” (Or something along these lines. Focus your attention on my contributions to the company as much as possible). Again, use your own words.

3.  For paragraph 3, you may wish to mention some personal traits/values of mine: What was it like to work with me, how did I measure-up as a team member compared with others? What contributions was I known for? What was I particularly good at? What positive recollections of working with me do you have? Use whatever adjectives come to mind.

4.  The last paragraph should reiterate how you feel about me as a professional:  “I feel strongly that Sally would bring A, B and C to any organization and prove to be a valuable, contributing member” (or something similar). End with a sentence that says something like, “I would be happy to talk with you if you have any questions about Sally,” or “Please feel free to contact me directly if you would like to know more about Sally’s work.” Use your own words.

List of Professional References – More Guidelines

When you create your List of Professional References, be sure to include the following elements for each individual:

  • Name
  • Title
  • Company
  • Street Address
  • Phone Number
  • E-Mail Address
  • The person’s relationship to you (Example: “Dr. Fisher was the Senior Scientist in charge of all research projects, and I reported to him for six years.”)  

Also, always use the prefixes Mr., Ms., or Dr. before each name on your List of Professional References.

Helpful Tips

You’ll need to go through the necessary steps to get these tools together – and it may take some time. But as a result, your “Job Search Portfolio” will be much stronger. When used properly, your List of Professional References and Letters of Recommendation will distinguish you from the other candidates, and ensure that you’ll get more offers!

About Ford Myers

Career Success and Job Search Expert, Ford R. Myers

Ford R. Myers is an award-winning career coach and President of Career Potential, LLC. He is author of the best-seller, Get The Job You Want, Even When No One’s Hiring. Ford’s firm helps clients take charge of their careers, create the work they love, and earn what they deserve! He has held senior consulting positions at three of the nation’s largest career service firms. Ford’s articles have appeared in thousands of publications and web sites, and he has been interviewed on every major television and radio network. Ford has also conducted presentations at hundreds of companies, associations and universities. Learn more at

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