Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash
Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash
  • A new study found that a standardised reference letter can increase your chance of getting hired by 50%. 
  • An academic study by three universities among a group of young South African job seekers, found that only 5% include reference letters with their applications.
  • Including a "realistic" reference letter has a particularly positive impact on female job seekers.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA's home page.

South African job-seekers who submit standardised reference letters with their applications are 50% more likely to be hired, a new study found.

The study was conducted by Middlebury College in the United States, as University of Stellenbosch and the University of Cape Town among unemployed South African youth. It found that typically only 5% of job seekers include a reference letter with their application.

But when "standardised" reference letters are included, employment chances increase by 50%.

Also read: These SA jobs have seen the biggest growth in demand – with salaries up to R160,000 per month

Typically, a standardised reference letter including ratings of the job applicant's skills - previous employers usually rate employees from "very good" to "below average" on skills such as literacy, interpersonal and computer skills, work ethic and numeracy. The letter would also typically include some details about how long and how well the previous employers knew the candidate. 

Reference letters are particularly useful for female job-seekers, who had a much higher probability of finding work three months after being provided with a standardised reference letter, the study found. 

Researchers, who described the reference letters as a cost-effective employment intervention, said as CVs provide limited information, employers often rely on informal referrals to fill vacancies. 

“This can lead to mismatched placements and the exclusion of groups who benefit less from referrals, such as women,” the researchers said.

Employers were, however, wary of reference letters that seemed too good to be true. 

“While positive letters increased a job seeker’s chances of being contacted, letters with perfect ratings in all categories were ineffective; underscoring the importance of employers viewing the information in reference letters as credible,” the researchers said. 

The study was completed among unemployed youth (between 18-34 years old) in Gauteng and Limpopo. Some 70% of the participants had a secondary school degree. All the youth who took part in the study had limited work experience in mainly short-term, low-skill jobs.

(compiled by James de Villiers)