Sample Letter for Negative Recommendations

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A negative recommendation letter can cost you your dream job, so it's important to be able to spot what they look like and who might be inclined to write a negative recommendation letter for you. 

Not all reference writers will decline to provide a reference, even if they don't have much positive to say. It's important to check with your ​reference letter writers in advance to be sure they can give you a positive endorsement.

A negative recommendation letter will hurt you far more than no recommendation letter at all.

If your current employer or manager is unwilling or unable to write you a positive recommendation letter, find someone else who can.

Who to Ask for a Reference

Some people you could consider asking instead would be other managers you have worked with at your current company, more senior colleagues, and previous managers. You could also include for a character reference instead of a professional reference.

Remember that you are asking your recommendation writer for a favor so be prepared to make their work as easy as possible by being willing to provide reference letter samples they can use and by offering to reciprocate when they next need a recommendation letter. A little extra effort on your part to ensure your letter of recommendation is a positive one will be well worth it when you get an invitation to interview from multiple companies.

Remember that negative recommendation letters will rarely come out and say that you were a terrible employee and that your current company is excited to see you leave. The rules for recommendation letters require a certain level of formality, so reference writers who don't think you should be hired won't come out and say that. Instead, they'll convey their lack of enthusiasm for working with you and the hiring manager will be able to understand what the recommendation letter writer is really saying.

Sample Negative Recommendation Letter (Text Version)

To Whom It May Concern:

Jane Doe reported to me for two years while working as a Customer Service Associate at ABCDE Corporation. She did a capable job in some areas. However, in other facets of her position, especially in customer relations, retraining and supervision were required.

Ms. Doe's services are no longer needed by our company, though we wish her well in all her future endeavors.

If I can provide you with any further information, please feel free to contact me at (111) 111-1111.


John Smith
Manager, ABCDE Corporation

What to Do If You Have a Negative Recommendation Letter

While negative recommendation letters are important to avoid, having one doesn't mean your job search is over. One of the best things you can do in the case of a bad recommendation letter which has already been seen is to explain the situation to the company you're applying to. Perhaps it was a case of incompatibility or unclear communication about expectations.

Regardless of the circumstances, you should be sure to acknowledge your share of responsibility for the situation and explain what you would do to produce better results should the same situation arise again.

Doing so shows a sense of responsibility and maturity, both of which are valuable assets in an employee. You should also gather as many positive recommendation letters as possible. One bad recommendation seems less worrisome to an HR department when it's included in a bundle of glowing references.