Writing a Reference Letter

I have done volunteer work for 3 years for a local community. We use university students to help us with our work. The volunteer work I have done has been quite extensive as I have set up a program and written a manual for it so anyone can step in to my shoes and do it. (I only add this to indicate that the work is detailed and I could write a thorough letter for a student). I do work at the university as a paid employee as well.

There is a student who really stands out who would like a reference letter from me. I am certainly happy to write it. The issue I have is how to present the letter. I have some initials behind my name so I could write with no letterhead and try to look professional through my initials. I am not sure about how the council would feel about me using their letterhead. You know how government offices can be. There is no one else at the council who could write the letter. I don’t think I can use my university letterhead as the volunteer job is unrelated to my real job. This kid is great and deserves a professional looking letter. Any suggestions? Thanking you in advance.

I just want add that the comments I am going to write about this student come from years of previous work experience so my professional opinion is really what I want to get across.

Is this an open reference you give to the student to copy and send to prospective employers or one you want to have available to use if asked?

Assuming the former, suggest the student write it for you, then rewrite it in your own style. And just use your personal name and address unless you are writing as an officer of the council.

Thanks Quartz. It is an ‘open’ letter.

Ask the council. If they say no, then no. But they might be happy to allow you use their letterhead. Using the university letterhead is a definite no-no.

I know this is a common practice, but I think it’s a terrible idea. It feels dishonest to me, it can be uncomfortable for the person you’re writing the reference for, but most of all, the student may not have a good understanding of what their best qualities might be to the recipients of the letter. For instance, when I wrote a letter for one of my research assistants, he wanted me to talk about some of his technical knowledge, but instead I wrote a glowing letter about the truly remarkable thing about him, which was how his research skills were extraordinary.

As for letterhead, I’m not sure how it works for the recipients of this letter, but all of the recommendation forms I’ve encountered have been electronic.

I think you could use the University letterhead but be clear in the text that you know the student through a volunteer position. I don’t see why that would be a problem. The letterhead identified who you are, not who the student is. If it were a personal reference would you hesitate to use your work letterhead?

No letterhead. The institution isn’t speaking, you are in your voice offering your opinion.

The letter itself should state the capacity you know the person in and that is sufficient to establish your cred.

I personally don’t value general reference letters. If I hAve an interest I’ll speak on the phone with the other person.

Ditto. You’re writing as an individual and can present the context of your “qualifications” for evaluating this person.

It sounds like you are comfortable writing the letter – please do that rather than having them write it.