As an employer, you may be asked to write a recommendation letter for someone who worked for you in the past. Providing a reference letter from a previous employer can be beneficial during a job search, and if you feel that you can provide a positive endorsement, it’s a good idea to accept the request.
However, if you don’t believe that you can honestly recommend the person for the job, it is best to politely decline writing the letter. Refusing to provide a recommendation is better than writing a negative reference, and there will be others who may be able to provide a stronger recommendation for the position candidate.
For job seekers, it's a good idea to review examples of employer references, so you know what to expect when you ask someone to give you a reference for a job.
You may even be asked to draft a reference letter for your reference writer to use as a starting point for their own letter.
Review information on the importance of references, what is included in an employment reference letter, and reference letter samples written by employers for former employees seeking a job.
The Value of Reference Letters From Past Employers
When a person is applying for a new job, one of the most valuable references to use is one from a previous employer. Hiring managers will be analyzing what kind of employee the candidate will be and whether they will fit in with the corporate culture at their firm.
A recommendation letter from the previous employer will provide valuable information—what kind of employee they are, how well they interacted with others, what skills they have, and whether they were competent in their position. It's also an endorsement, providing a positive recommendation for the person's application with the company.
In addition to helping a good employee get hired, remember that writing references for people also serves to strengthen your network relationships.
At some time in the future, you may wish to ask a favor of a former employee or colleague, and if you have been supportive of their career, they will have a more positive opinion to share with others.
Some employers have company policies that determine what information can be disclosed in a reference. The policy may also limit who can provide a reference for a former employee. Check with your former manager or the company's human resources department for details.
What Is Included in the Reference Letter
In your letter, you will want to include:
- Dates of employment
- The position held
- The company name
- Job responsibilities
- Strengths and abilities
- Contact Information
The skills, attributes, and personality traits that make the individual well-suited to the job they are applying for should also be included. If they received recognition or awards while working for you, you might mention these as well.
It’s a useful strategy to mention any similarities between their former position and the one they are currently seeking, offering instances of their competence and success in these areas where possible.
If your former employee has provided you with a contact, you should address the letter to them; otherwise, you can use a generic salutation. Be sure to include your contact information, and your title and company.
When you're sending an email reference letter, list the person's name in the subject line of the message. Include your contact information in your signature, so it is easy to get in touch with you for any questions or clarification.
Sample Recommendation Letter From a Previous Employer
This is an example of a recommendation letter from a previous employer. It's a general letter that applicants can use when applying for jobs. Download the recommendation letter template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.
Sample Recommendation Letter From a Previous Employer (Text Version)
123 Business Road
Business City, NY 54321
To Whom it May Concern:
I highly recommend Jane as a candidate for employment. Jane was employed by Acme Retail as an Administrative Assistant from 2018 to 2021. Jane was responsible for office support, including word processing, scheduling appointments, and creating brochures, newsletters, and other office literature.
Jane has excellent communication skills. In addition, she is extremely organized, reliable, and computer literate. Jane can work independently and is able to follow through to ensure that the job gets done. She is flexible and willing to work on any project that is assigned to her. Jane was quick to volunteer to assist in other areas of company operations, as well.
Jane would be a tremendous asset to your company and has my highest recommendation. If you have any further questions regarding her background or qualifications, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Signature (hard copy letter)
Email Reference Letter Sample From an Employer
Here's an example of an email reference letter for an employee from a previous employer.
Sample Email Reference From an Employer
Subject: Maxwell Jones Reference
Dear Mr. Green,
I was pleased to hear that Maxwell Jones has applied for the position of sales manager with XYZ Enterprises. Max worked for me as a sales associate at CNE Inc. from 2015 to 2020. He is a creative and dedicated salesperson who consistently surpassed his quotas and had a very high customer rating.
Maxwell is a motivated employee and an excellent leader. Although he was an associate in my department, he took the initiative to mentor new hires and set a positive example for the team. I can enthusiastically recommend him for a management position.
If you have any questions or would like any other information, please contact me.
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321
KEEP YOUR REFERENCE POSITIVE: Only agree to write a letter of recommendation if you know that you can whole-heartedly say good things about the job candidate. Not only might a negative reference harm the job seeker’s chances, but the less-than-stellar information you shared might get back to them. Disgruntled former employees have been known to sue companies that provided negative references (which is why it is now often company policy not to provide letters of recommendation).
TAILOR THE RECOMMENDATION TO THE JOB: As you discuss the skills and talents the candidate would bring to their new employer, give pride of place to those that you know will be relevant to their job. Ask the job seeker for a copy of the job announcement so you know which points you should emphasize.
FOR JOB SEEKERS: If you are the job seeker, help your reference to write a great letter by providing them with your resume and a copy of the job listing you are applying for.