How Your Cover Letter Should Change if You Have a Reference

John Krautzel
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For many job seekers, it can be challenging to determine what information belongs in a cover letter. When it comes to including a professional reference, there is no clear answer; whether or not you include it depends on your situation, the reference and the target company

A professional reference belongs in your cover letter if the person's name will have meaning to the employer. If your reference is a celebrity or a well-known industry leader, for example, it can be an impressive addition to your application. At the very least, it will make you stand out from the crowd.

Before you include the person's name in your cover letter, consider the potential ramifications of name recognition. Will your potential employer be impressed or turned off by the reference? If you spent a summer interning for a reality TV star, for example, it might not be appropriate to mention in an application letter for a research position. Add the person's name to your cover letter only if it will make you look better by association.

If your reference's name is not recognizable, but his company or position title is, include both in your letter. A statement like, "As you'll see from the attached reference, I worked closely with John Smith, the CEO of Company X," can get the employer's attention.

When it comes to including a person's name, title or company, be sure that it relates to the content of the cover letter; otherwise, you'll look like a name-dropper. The inclusion of the reference should only be in the letter to reinforce your qualifications and to show that you are uniquely qualified for the position.

Another situation that warrants the inclusion of a reference is a personal referral or professional connection. If your reference is an old friend or colleague of your potential boss, you might say something like, "I was referred to the position by John Smith of Company X." The same goes for former employees of the company or other industry colleagues that might be recognizable to the hiring committee. Take the time to do due diligence and ensure that the person has a positive relationship with the hiring manager to avoid creating a negative association. You can also add extra details for clarity, such as, "John Smith referred me to the open position when we spoke at the Industry X conference in July." This extra information strengthens the connection and reinforces the impact of the reference.

In many cases, it is perfectly acceptable to leave your reference out of the cover letter. This holds true when a reference has no connections to the target company. In fact, if the person is unknown to the potential employer, adding it into the letter can be confusing and distracting.

A reference can be a powerful addition to your cover letter, but only if it improves your standing as a candidate. By taking the time to emphasize the person's connection to the target company, you can make a significant impact with a single mention.

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