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How to Write a Reference Letter for a Former Supervisor

by Lisa McQuerrey

A former supervisor might ask you to write a reference letter on her behalf if she’s trying to show a potential new employer how her subordinates feel about her leadership style. If you feel your former manager has exceptional skills and are comfortable recommending her for a new role, agree to write the letter. Have a conversation with her before creating a draft to ensure you understand what information will be most beneficial.

Determine Content

Talk to your former supervisor about how the reference letter will be used. This will help you determine the most appropriate slant to take. For example, if she's applying for a management position, she might ask you to discuss her conflict mediation skills, communication approaches and her assistance in setting career goals and objectives. If she’s applying for a non-management role, she may ask you to focus the letter on your knowledge of her team and collaborative efforts that will demonstrate her ability to compromise, take direction and work on group initiatives.

Introduce Yourself

Tell the letter recipient something about yourself to establish credibility and connect you to your former supervisor." For example, you might write, "As a 10-year professional in the marketing arena, I spent several years working as an assistant manager for Barb Jones, during which time she demonstrated highly effective leadership skills. I worked on several major advertising initiatives and public awareness campaigns with Barb, and I learned a great deal from her about how to identify and reach target markets and how to work as an effective team member.”

Describe Your Colleague

Provide an overview of what you believe makes your former supervisor an ideal candidate for the position she's seeking. For example, if the role calls for someone with exceptional sales skills and shrewd negotiating abilities, build your reference letter around these traits. Stress your former supervisor's sales techniques and attention to detail, providing specific examples to back up your points. For example: “Barb is a dedicated professional with a proven, high-dollar sales track record. Her leadership helped our company establish new annual sales records three times in the last four years. She makes fair, well thought-out decisions and regularly encourages staff input.”

Provide Contact Information

Summarize and finalize your letter of recommendation by issuing your support for your supervisor for the position she's seeking. Provide your contact information, including your phone number and email address, and invite the letter recipient to contact you for additional information if necessary.

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