If someone who works for you is moving to a new city or looking for a new opportunity, she or he may request a professional reference letter. This letter can be helpful during the job application process, whether the employee is moving to a position in a different division of the same company or to an entirely new employer.
In your capacity as a supervisor, you will likely get asked for references by your employees. Of course, it can be surprising to discover that someone is planning on moving on at a given time, for one reason or another. People transition to new jobs for many reasons, and it’s most often not a reflection of your management style, especially if they feel comfortable asking you for a reference.
Before you agree to provide a professional reference, make sure that you understand your employer’s policy on providing references to departing employees. Many companies now refuse to provide references, across the board, because of their legal departments’ fear of lawsuits. Your Human Resources department will know your company’s policy.
If you feel that you can give the person a glowing reference, you should. Be honest about their skills and qualifications, and provide specific anecdotes of their success on the job where you can.
Make sure that you ask them what reference letter format is required, and for a contact name where possible. If you don't feel that you can give a strong endorsement, here's how to turn down a request for a reference.
What to Include in a Professional Reference
Some information is standard to include in a reference letter. You will want to mention in what capacity and for how long you have known the employee, as well as highlighting his or her particular skills, abilities, and talents. The letter should also include your contact information so that potential new employers can easily follow up to ask more questions if necessary.
You might also want to ask the employee to give you copies of their resume and of the job postings they are applying for. This way, you’ll have information at hand to draw upon should a potential employer request additional information.
The job postings will also clue you into the professional skills you should most emphasize in your reference letter. If you can demonstrate how your employee possesses the “preferred qualifications” specifically listed in the job posting, you’ll increase his or her chances of being interviewed and hired.
Printed Letter Format
The following are examples of professional reference letters written for an employee who is job seeking. The first is written as a business letter and would be mailed or sent as a Word attachment to an email (which could be printed for an employee file):
- Start with your name, title, company, address, phone, and email information.
- Follow with the date and the hiring manager’s name, title, company, and address.
- Begin your letter with a salutation, followed by the body of your letter.
- End your letter with a business closing and your signature on a hard copy, followed by your typed name. Just your typed name needs to be included if you’re not printing the letter.
Professional Reference Letter Sample
You can use this sample as a model to write a professional reference letter. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online), or read the text version below.
Professional Reference Letter Sample (Text Version)
76 Main Street
Any City, State Zip Code
March 30, 2021
532 East 95th Street
Every City, State Zip Code
April Rango has been an employee here at TREX, Inc. for the past five years. She has been a pleasure to work with, bringing her attention to detail to every project. Her communication and people skills are excellent, and she has some very innovative ideas.
I can highly recommend her for the opportunity that you have available. It is a very similar position to the one she currently holds here, and she is well suited to the challenges it provides. April is a talented young woman, and everyone here wishes her all the best with her move to Every City.
If you need any additional information, please contact me.
Signature (hard copy letter)
Email Reference Format
The following is an example of an email reference letter.
If you are emailing the reference rather than typing a letter, the subject line of the email message should contain the name of the person you are providing the reference for (Example: “Professional reference for Joe Johnson”).
Email Reference Example
Professional Reference Email Sample
Subject line: Derrick White - Reference
Dear Ms. Chin,
I'm writing to recommend Derrick White. I've worked with Derrick for the past five years at ABC Event Planning Company; for three of those years, he was my direct report.
In the time I've known him, Derrick has consistently been a strong employee — capable of taking control of big projects and executing to the fullest. As well, he's a pleasure to work with. Derrick is cheerful in the face of daunting deadlines and always available to lend a hand to co-workers when necessary.
Rarely do you come across someone who is talented at both big picture ideas and executing the small details — Derrick is just that person. As an account supervisor here at ABC Event Planning Company, he pitches event plans to clients and then manages the client relationship from ideation through execution. Derrick would be a great fit for your company, building strong relationships and ensuring successful events.
I highly recommend Derrick as an employee at your company. He would be an asset to any organization. Please do not hesitate to be in touch if you have any further questions.
Director, ABC Event Planning Company
Review More Examples
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