Letters of Reference, Part One: Tips for Selecting Your References

30 Oct

Like most things, I wanted someone to provide a formula for us when it came to selecting the folks we were asking to write our adoption letters of references. I also wanted to be able to provide a sample for them in order to allay any fears they may have about what exactly was expected.

And of course, I learned that there is no formula.

That doesn’t mean however, that there aren’t best practices to keep in mind. Here are some of the questions I had, and the answers I found as we researched how to select our references.

Photo courtesy of
‘C’è posta per te – A letter for you’
courtesy of ‘RaSeLaSeD – Il Pinguino’

Who should you select?
Does it matter if you your references live close to you? Does it matter if they have kids? Does it matter if they know one person in the prospective adoptive couple better than the other person?

The simple answer is that you should select people who like you a whole lot. It doesn’t matter so much if they are parents themselves, or if they live near or far (as long as they really know you), or if they have known one of you since childhood and the other for the three or six or 10 years you’ve been a couple.

We needed three references in our home state of Virginia. We asked my boss of 13 years to write one letter. As the parent of two grown children herself, we know she’s really pulling for us. We also know she’s a good writer and we knew she could attest to the fact that our office is extremely family friendly. If you have a good relationship with your boss or another co-worker consider asking them – especially if you think you might continue to work after baby comes home. It takes a village and most of us spend more hours during the week with our co-workers than with our partners.

We asked my friend from elementary school and her husband to write the second letter. We spend a lot of time with their kids and we knew they could talk about us from that perspective. As an added bonus, my friend coordinates a program to help people learn parenting skills so we knew she could articulate the ways in which she thinks we will be good parents. Our social worker and our lawyer both said that it doesn’t matter if your references have young children or not, but we knew it certainly wouldn’t hurt. Consider asking someone whose kids know you pretty well. Also, if you know someone who works with children or families (like a teacher) think about whether or not they will offer a unique perspective.*

Our final reference was written by my college roommate and closest friend. Although she’s married, the reference was only submitted by her. That’s because at the time we asked her to write the letter, we had not known her husband for two years which is required for references in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Your own state may have different laws about that so just make sure you know what is required. We chose her because she’s the closest thing I have to a sister and her family is going to play a huge role in our lives and that of our child. We thought she was the best person to write about what we’re like every day and what being part of our family is like. Who knows you best? Would they be a good choice for one of your references?

Other good picks would be someone you know through church (or your preferred place of worship or fellowship), someone with whom you have volunteered or who is a member of the same civic or charitable group, neighbors with whom you are close, or siblings if that’s allowed in your state.

*We briefly flirted with the idea of adding a fourth non-required letter from a kid who knows us. We quickly discarded the idea because we thought it might be too cutesy, wouldn’t actually help and might even be annoying for the social worker who has to go through all the paper work.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. Letters of Reference, Part Two: More about the actual letters | Sweet Little Nest - October 31, 2011

    [...] I wrote about how we chose the people we asked to write our letters of reference, but we still had lots of questions once we decided on our three [...]

  2. Adoption Letters of Reference, Part Three: Asking our References | Sweet Little Nest - November 1, 2011

    [...] I have discussed, we had a lot of questions about who to ask and how to write to our adoption letters of reference. Once we had chosen our references and [...]

Leave a Reply