Cover Letter Styles: Referrals

Referrals are basically letters of recommendation, and they come in a range of styles and forms. A referral is a combination of a cover letter for a job application and a reference. It's very different from the other types of cover letters. Referrals are usually direct personal referrals to a specific addressee known to the person making the referral for business or employment purposes. This includes job applications, but in other cases it's used for business networking purposes.

Referrals are used to provide information to employers and business associates about a person or another business. In many cases these referrals are job and business getters. They are very important letters, and they're still business letters. Often they're direct personal references, with the added element of applying to a job or contract situation.

Referrals include:

  • Direct contact with employers and businesses by the writer
  • Personal references explaining the reason for the referral
  • Information regarding the job applicant or business interest
  • Any relevant information supporting the referral

Many references are written as personal letters to the addressee from a business associate. This is an inside track approach to employment and business, and it's usually effective. Unlike personal references, this is an active method of supporting job applications and business interests.

Format of referral letters

Personal letter: This is a common, less formal method of referral. The letter is set out like a personal letter, explaining the situation and the reason for the referral. There's no strict format, and these letters may go into detail or be brief, explaining the reason for the referral. These letters are usually not written on business letterheads, unless written by management.

Business letter: The formal type of referral is a business letter, on letterhead. It's an "official" referral from one business to another, so it's a valuable commodity for the people being referred. The content is also businesslike, including information about business dealings and relevant information for the addressee.

Information content of referral letters

Whatever the format, referral letters need to convey enough information to clearly set out the reasons for the referral.

This information includes:

  • Name of person or business being referred
  • Type of association between the person and the referrer
  • Specific recommendations regarding the referral (like reasons to employ, etc.)
  • Any useful supporting information to the reference (information which will assist the reader to assess the referred person)

Referral letter styles

There are no standardized rules for referrals, except for "official" referrals, which must be written as business letters. There's some scope for personal comments, but anything kept on business records as correspondence has to be written properly. Consider these referrals as normal business letters.

The personal style is more fluid, and can be a personal letter. This style is appropriate for networking, or giving a referral outside the official business role, but intended to give good information to a colleague. The focus is on providing a credible, useful message to the recipient.