Reference Letters - University of Alberta
What is a reference letter?
A reference letter is a letter of recommendation from a previous or current supervisor, professor, co-
worker, peer or personal contact who can describe the knowledge, skills or aptitudes that you possess.
Uses for reference letters
Reference letters can be used when looking for work or applying to graduate school. Reference letters may
be required when applying for monetary awards, such as a fellowship or grant. When presented selectively
in a portfolio, reference letters provide compelling evidence to an employer or committee about your
While your referees can provide a verbal reference, letters can be used if your reference has moved away,
is no longer with the organization, or is out of reach for some reason, such as on holiday, when you need
to supply your references.
Who makes a good reference?
When looking for employment, a current or previous employer or direct supervisor is the best reference. It
is also acceptable to include a direct supervisor from unpaid employment, such as a practicum or a
volunteer position. When applying for graduate or professional school, persons who can comment on your
academic achievements, such as a professor, or a professional who is active in the field you wish to enter,
are excellent choices. Personal and/or professional acquaintances—for example, a high-ranking
community member or professional in good standing whom you know personally—are also acceptable.
What makes a good reference letter?
Use of action verbs to describe your accomplishments, skills and strengths.
Use of the active voice which indicates that you completed tasks and demonstrated desirable
behaviours. The passive voice can indicate that events happened to you and tasks would have been
completed whether you were there or not.
How you performed the responsibilities required for the position or role. A glowing reference letter
will include how you exceeded expectations in your position/role, even if it is only in one area.
Descriptions of your contributions to the work/academic environment, whether in regards to your
work habits, such as completed tasks on time, or your personal strengths, for example you are
collegial and supportive.
If possible, a statement indicating that the referee would re-hire you or collaborate with you on
another project. People may also work several times for the same organization and it is beneficial for
you if the letter indicates that you worked for or with the referee several times or that they expect to
work with you in the future.
The referee’s contact information including his or her full name, appropriate title, address, phone
number and/or e-mail address.
Reference Letters - University of Alberta PDF
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