Employment Reference Letter: Definition and How To Write One

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 8 November 2022

Published 21 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When you work in a management position, an employee may ask you to write a reference letter on their behalf. These letters may serve a variety of purposes, such as for their further education, awards or subsequent employment. For this reason, t's important for you to know the proper way to write a reference letter to best assist the employee. In this article, we discuss what an employment reference letter is and how to write a good one with a template and example.

Related: Questions to Ask When Checking References (With Tips)

What is an employment reference letter for an employee?

An employment reference letter is a document that summarises an employee's abilities, achievements, duties and work ethics during their time working at a specific company. You can include information like:

  • Your relationship with the candidate

  • How long the candidate worked at your company

  • Your purpose for writing the letter

  • Why the organisation should consider this candidate

  • Your contact information

The primary purpose of this letter is for an employee to inform a prospective employer about their ability to perform the duties of the new job. However, employees may use them for other purposes, such as including them in an online portfolio to attract recruiters and hiring managers or providing them when applying for a rental or mortgage. Regardless of the purpose, it's important for the letter to highlight a candidate's abilities and strengths.

Direct managers or supervisors commonly write reference letters for employees. However, other employees may ask a mentor or a human resources manager to write the letter for them. Regardless of who the writer is, it's important for them to speak truthfully about their experience working with the employee and their performance within the organisation.

Related: What Is a Character Reference Letter? (With Tips and Samples)

How do you write a good employment reference letter?

Follow these general steps to write a good reference letter for an employee:

1. Review the employee's current resume

Ask the employee for an up-to-date copy of their resume. Review the resume carefully, and be mindful of their abilities, accomplishments and skills, especially how they relate to the new position they are pursuing. Look for details you want to highlight in the letter, such as their strengths or other qualifications.

2. Adopt a business letter format

Choose a business letter format to structure your letter. This helps ensure your letter looks professional. Explore options for business letter templates available online or through various word processing software programs.

Read more: Business Letter Formats: Overview and Examples

3. Add your contact information

Place your contact information at the top left corner of the letter. Be sure to include your full name, job title, employer name and professional contact information, such as the phone number and email address you use at work. You may choose to include your work address, but this is optional.

4. Start with a professional salutation

Begin your letter by formally addressing the recipient. If you know the recipient's name, you may address the letter to them specifically by using their surname and a formal title, such as "Dear Mr. Chan" or "Dear Ms. Han" followed by a comma. If you do not know the recipient's name, consider using a general but professional opening, such as "To whom it may concern" or "Dear hiring manager" followed by a comma.

Read more: How and When To Use the Phrase "To Whom It May Concern"

5. Introduce yourself

Use the opening paragraph of your letter to introduce yourself to the recipient. Consider stating your name, and include details about the company you work for, your position there and how long you've worked there. Provide the reason why you're writing to them, and discuss your relationship with the person whom you are recommending.

6. Write the body of the letter

Use the body of the letter to expand on your relationship and to elaborate on their abilities. This section can be a few paragraphs in length. Some examples of what to include are:

  • The candidate's job title when they worked at your company

  • The dates the employee worked at your company

  • Exceptional qualities the candidate has that support their ability to perform the duties required by the position

  • Any accomplishments or awards they received while working at your company

  • Specific examples of the employee demonstrating relevant skills or traits needed for the position

  • The reason(s) you recommend the candidate for the position

Related: Experience Letter Sample: Definition, Tips and Template

7. Add a conclusion

Finish your letter with a closing paragraph that reiterates your belief in the candidate and how well they can perform at the new job. Consider sharing how the employee can contribute to the success of the company, your confidence in their abilities or that you would hire them again if you could. Invite the recipient to contact you if they have any further questions.

8. Sign your letter

Be sure to add a formal closing statement to your letter, such as "Sincerely," "Best" or "Regards" followed by a comma. Then, type your first name and surname. If you are physically mailing the letter, be sure to include enough spaces to sign your name above your typed name.

Related: How To Ask for Job References (With a Template and Example)

How do you write a good reference letter for an employee?

Use these tips to help you write a good reference letter for an employee:

1. Review the job description

Ask your employee for a copy of the job description. Review the reference carefully before you begin writing the letter. Look for specific duties or skills mentioned that you know your employee has, and be sure to incorporate keywords from the posting in your letter.

2. Include specific examples

Ensure you include specific examples of the employee's talents in your letter. Select a few of their skills, and provide specific examples of how the employee has demonstrated these skills at your company. If possible, include relevant data to support your examples.

3. Be positive

Write your letter in a positive tone. Focus on why you believe the candidate is an excellent choice for the position, and avoid including negative words or phrases. Ensure the entire letter encourages the recipient to consider the employee as a potential candidate.

4. Be mindful of length

It's important to write a letter that is long enough to convey your belief in the candidate properly without being too verbose. Aim to write a letter that is approximately one page long. This demonstrates your understanding of your employee and belief in them, but also knowing that the hiring manager is busy.

5. Talk to your employee

Consider talking to your employee about the position before you write the letter. Ask them specific questions about why they're interested in the position, and learn more about the type of work they enjoy the most. Incorporate relevant information into your letter to help highlight your employee's passion for the new position.

6. Don't be afraid to say no

Writing a positive reference letter is important. If you don't feel that you can write a positive reference letter for an employee, politely decline the request. Consider telling them you are not comfortable writing the letter and suggest someone more appropriate to do so.

Read more: How To Write an Effective Recommendation Letter

Employee reference letter template

Use this template as a guide when writing your reference letter for an employee:

[Your first name and surname]
[Your work title]
[The company you work at]
[Your work phone number]
[Your work email address]

[Date you're writing the letter]

Dear [Mr./Ms./Mrs.] [Surname],

[Write a few sentences to introduce yourself and state the purpose of your letter. Provide basic information about your relationship with the candidate.]

[Add the content of your letter. Write one to three paragraphs supporting your belief in the candidate and their ability to do the job they're pursuing. Include specific examples to support your beliefs, and be sure to organise the paragraphs logically.]

[Write a closing paragraph that emphasises your belief in the candidate and summarises their qualifications. Include a sentence encouraging the recipient to contact you with any questions or concerns.]

[Closing statement],

[Your first name and surname]

Employee reference letter example

Review this example before you write your letter:

Margaret Lin
Digital Marketing Manager
Woodvale Marketing Agency
+65 8888 8888

June 23, 2021

Dear Mr. Xu,

My name is Margaret Lin, and I'm writing to you to recommend Jacob Sim as a candidate for the senior marketing associate position at Red Springs Digital Marketing. At Woodvale Marketing Agency, I had the privilege of working with Jacob for three years, and I was his direct supervisor. Jacob displayed an exceptional understanding of digital marketing best practices, and his excellent work ethic and commitment to teamwork will make him an excellent candidate for the position at your organisation.

Jacob was an invaluable asset to our marketing department. He came into the position with excellent verbal and written communication skills and a commitment to deliver exceptional work. He consistently applied his skills to write incredible content for our client, and he has always received positive feedback from our clients. Jacob's creative thinking skills truly provide him with an unmatched ability to write.

Jacob also has exceptional time management skills, possesses a desire to help others and is very willing to learn. Because of this, he was able to expand his skill set and knowledge to flourish within our company. He earned an SEO certification and assisted our graphic design department, rounding out his skills as a marketing professional.

Based on his remarkable skill set and his desire to succeed, I believe Jacob is the perfect candidate to join your organisation. I'm equally confident in his technical abilities as I am his pleasant demeanour, and I believe you will not find another candidate like him. If you have any other questions about Jacob, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Thank you for your time.


Margaret Lin

Related: How To Write a Character Reference Letter for a Friend

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