References in your application – how to do it right

With the highest recommendation: here’s how to list your references in your application

You make your career by convincing others of your intelligence and skills. The application documents already give you the ideal opportunity to do this – with references and letters of recommendation. But not everyone is the right advocate. These tips will help you to remove the stumbling blocks to the perfect reference letter.

References and letters of recommendation: what distinguishes you?

According to Swiss law, official work references must always be written sympathetically, however, the room for different interpretations of the obscure formulations is large. That’s why letters of recommendation are always more welcome, as has long been standard, mainly in the USA. Instead of restraint, what you really want in your references is a big impact: because reference letters clearly and strongly emphasise your assets.
There are basically two different kinds of references in applications:

  • The concrete mention of a person, with contact details, who will tell your potential new employer about your abilities and
  • The letter of recommendation, which will inform the recipient about your achievements and personality traits.

Choose your referee carefully

No doubt close relations only have positive things to say about you, but they are a no-go for letters of recommendation. Really convincing referees are people who have trained you, (former) employers and colleagues. Reference letters from business partners or university professors also go down well. Admittedly, you have to use a certain tact when you ask someone for a reference. Ask yourself two questions in advance. First: does this person really know me and my abilities well? Second: are they prepared to write a positive reference that shows me in a good light? If you can answer both questions with “yes”, then ask your potential referee for support straight away. If not, then you’re better off to keep looking.

Tip: Maintain your professional network, online and offline. Often people who are really convinced about your personality, competence and drive, and are happy to write you a reference, will turn up there by themselves.

Present your references so they stand out

If you are simply giving the contact details of references in your application, you can already mention these in the letter: “My former superior John Doe will be happy to tell you about my structured way of working.” Alternatively, you can enter the information on a separate page after your CV – with your name, position and contact details, as well as a short explanation of your relationship to your referee.

If you decide for a letter of recommendation, you should ideally put it first in your attachment. It should be seen as a replacement for the "third page". One or two references are enough.

What should the letter of recommendation include?

Ultimately, what really matters is of course the content. These are the criteria for a convincing reference letter:

  • A clear focus – Agree with the author in advance which traits should be especially mentioned and why. If you are applying for a management position for example, the reference letter should emphasise your qualities as a leader.
  • Formally correct – The ideal reference letter is a standard A4 page long and personally signed by your referee.
  • Complete – What is your working relationship to each other? How do you know each other? What successes have you achieved in the referee’s view? The letter of recommendation must answer these questions.
  • To the point – The referee should make sure the letter lives up to its name. This means that there should be a recommendation from the referee at the end. Such as which area you're particularly suited to.