What Would Someone Write About You In A Letter of Reference?

Leadership Lesson: To understand your best attributes, as well as areas which need improvement, it’s advantageous to consider how a letter of reference for you would read.

It’s always great to help someone else out, making sure they’re empowered to reach what they’re working for. Not enough opportunities exist in which each of us can thoroughly highlight someone else’s strengths to others, spelling out exactly how others would benefit from that person’s skills. Just as scarce are the instances in which someone can see such a review of their own efforts and character.

There are no everyday, common instances to share that information about someone else or see it about ourselves.

One of the few mechanisms in which people can both provide those types of thoughts and review them about themselves are letters of reference. Through such a letter, the writer ensures that the subject of the letter knows the best about themselves, what their strengths are, and where they thrive.

Writing such a letter is a great opportunity to share what we think of others in a well-thought-out and structured manner, while for the subject of the letter it reinforces the work they do and the work ethic they live.

These letters can spell out what we don’t share with each other in the everyday. They encapsulate and capture the best of us.

In and of itself, a reference letter is a good “reference” point.  What it illustrates can change from year to year depending on what the subject of the letter is doing and the work they’re carrying out. The tone and details can change based on what that person is up to. It tells you where the person stands in, and what the person has done up to, that moment. It’s a point in time off of which to build and evolve.

You may have had a letter written for you, vouching for you at some point in your life and career. Maybe it was recently. Maybe it wasn’t. Whether you have or you haven’t, now may be a good time to consider how an objective reference letter for you might read, based on where you are right now in work and life.

Aside from mentions of your experience, skill, and abilities, what else do you believe someone would write about you? How would they try to convey how and what you provide to others? What would they outline as your best attributes?

Aside from these type of general reference letter considerations, keep in mind these other questions you’d want a reference letter about you to answer:

What kind of impact you have on others?

How would someone describe what they’ve taken away from working and interacting with you?

How do you leave things better than you found them? (And that includes people.)

You need to be cognizant of what you leave in your wake.

What does your work ethic look like?

How would they describe how much commitment you have as an employee, worker, and contributor? How much do you put into the team, company, and/or mission?

It’s never only about the technical skills and abilities but also how much you’re actually going to utilize them and make them work tirelessly for the mission at hand.

How do you demonstrate that you push forward, to learn and share?

How much do you seek to evolve and improve yourself, always seeking to get better?

It’s important to avoid coming in and merely carrying out the basics for sustaining a job. It’s on all of us to get better at what we’re doing, to make sure that what we’re working for is still there tomorrow, standing stronger than it does today.

How do you go above and beyond?

How do you do more than what is asked of you? How much can you contribute above what is needed?

The work ethic mentioned above can apply to the work, responsibilities, and duties called for in the job description at the time. But how much further are you willing to go for your mission beyond that?


Yes, not all of these may apply to all reference letters. But most reference letters will include some variation or number of these points.

Another main question to answer in this exercise is How does what someone may write reconcile to what you see in yourself? It’s important to consider what people might leave out because you haven’t demonstrated your abilities as much as you should, abilities which you believe can provide a great amount of value. In the same vein, it’s important to consider if people would write something about you that’s too vague, again, because you don’t fully show who you are.

The other question to consider is Would someone write about you? If you don’t believe someone would recommend you, why is that? Are they being unreasonable? Have you not done enough relationship-building? Have you not demonstrated enough of yourself to them? It’s always important to consider the opinions of those who don’t sing your praises as much as those who do – for development purposes.

Related: What People Teach Us: Opinions & Protecting Yourself From…Yourself

What others think shouldn’t bother us, right? Wrong. We should care about what others think, IF – and that’s a big “if” – we can use those beliefs to get better at who we are and what we do. There is no time for shallow feedback or empty criticism; we need constructive commentary and workable suggestions.

Keeping that in mind, work on this exercise with a few partners whom you share various levels of interaction, so that you can capture varied opinions and thoughts. You need to step out of your immediate circle, in which you may feel too comfortable, and delve further into the unknown and unfamiliar, in order to truly develop.

So be honest with yourself and consider what an all-encompassing reference letter about you would look like, and then use those answers to refine who you are and how effective you can be.



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