A reference letter is used to endorse someone and provides an overview of their skills, ability, knowledge, and character. A reference letter may be required as part of an employment or academic application.
The template below shows the format of a typical reference letter. This format is appropriate for an employment reference, as well as for a graduate school recommendation. Review tips for what to include in each section of a reference letter as well.
What Should You Include in a Reference Letter?
If you need to write a reference letter for someone, you may be wondering what details to include, and what to leave out:
- A reference letter should provide context on who you are and what your connection is to the person you are recommending.
- It is also important to include information on why the person is qualified and details on his or her specific skills.
- Provide your contact information in case the company or school has any follow-up questions.
Be honest in your reference letter, since it reflects upon you as well as the candidate—you should not write a glowing reference of someone you do not know well or do not believe would be a good employee. Avoid being negative or bringing up faults or weaknesses.
If you have strong doubts about a person's candidacy, be honest and let them know that you're not comfortable writing a reference for them.
Reference Letter Outline
If you are writing a personal letter of reference where you know the name of the recipient, include a salutation (Dear Mr. Marina, Dear Ms. Templeton, etc.). If you are writing a general letter, say "To Whom it May Concern" or simply do not include a salutation at all.
The first paragraph of the reference letter template explains your connection to the person you are recommending, including how you know them, and why you are qualified to write a reference letter to recommend them for employment or school enrollment.
Typically, this section of the letter would detail how long you have known the person, or specify the years you worked together, taught the person, or were in the same class, etc.
The second paragraph of the reference letter template contains specific information regarding the person you are writing about, including why they are qualified, what they can contribute, and why you are providing a reference letter.
You can and should include meaningful anecdotes or details here. These sort of brief examples will create a memorable context that will help the person you are recommending stand out from their competition.
If necessary, use more than one paragraph to provide details on the person you are writing about and why and how they are qualified.
When writing a specific letter referring a candidate for a particular job opening, the reference letter should include information about how the person's skills match the position they are applying for. Remember that you are, in effect, “marketing” this person’s skills—and the more closely their skill set mirrors the job description, the more likely it is that they will be invited to interview.
Ask for a copy of the job posting and a copy of the person's resume so you can target your reference letter accordingly. Then, once you have reviewed these materials, ask yourself, “Why do I think that [the person you are recommending] is a great fit for this job?”
Write down a list of examples of how this person has demonstrated the skills outlined in the job description, and then use these to strengthen this paragraph and make it “pop.”
This section of the reference letter template contains a brief summary of why you are recommending the person. State that you "highly recommend" the person or you "recommend them without reservation" or something similar.
The concluding paragraph of the reference letter template contains an offer to provide more information. You can either include a phone number within the paragraph or refer to the phone number and email address in the return address section of your letter (“For more information, please contact me at the phone number or email address listed above”). Include a polite close and then your name and title.
Reference Letter Template
This is a sample reference letter. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online) or see below for more examples.
Sample Reference Letter (Text Version)
375 Alameda Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94124
March 10, 2020
Ms. Suzanne Templeton
XYZ Software Inc.
174 Third Street
West Renton, WA 98056
Dear Ms. Templeton:
Ingrid Adams, a candidate for the Software Engineer I position that is currently being searched by XYZ Software Inc., has asked me to write a letter of recommendation on her behalf, and it is with much enthusiasm that I do so.
For the last three months, Ms. Adams has performed an internship under my supervision in the Software Engineering department at ABC Software Solutions. An honors student at San Francisco State University, she has proven herself to be one of the most talented and innovative young software designers I have ever supervised.
Ingrid has been an indispensable part of our team during a performance-critical period when, short-handed, we faced a critical launch deadline for the 3.5 version of our QuickDesign software. Not only are her coding skills spot-on, but she also possesses the vision and analytical skills required to quickly assess programming options, forecast trouble spots, and resolve potential issues in formative stages. She was a key factor in our successful preparation for our on-time release of this software.
Ingrid’s command of object-oriented programming, Java, C#, C++, and SQL is superb. She is an excellent communicator both in English and in German, with the ability to make complex technical information understandable to lay audiences.
Given her technical expertise, attention to detail, and exemplary work ethic, I have no doubt that you will find Ingrid Adams to be an invaluable contributor to the software development team at XYZ Software Inc., and I highly recommend her for the position of Software Engineer I. Please contact me at the email or phone number listed here if there is any other information I can provide in support of her candidacy.
Edward Espiritu, Software Engineer
ABC Software Solutions
More Reference Letter Samples
It is helpful to review reference letter samples to see how other reference writers have incorporated their recommendations into the reference letter template; please visit the link above to view a few more examples.