If you agree to write the letter, it's important to make sure it is personalized for the candidate and for the position at hand.
Below is advice on how to write a reference letter, as well as an example of a reference letter for a former employee. For job applicants, the information will show you what to expect when an employer provides a written reference for you.
What to Include in an Employee Reference Letter
Your reference letter should include the following components:
Include your contact information and the recipient's name at the top of the letter for a printed or upload letter. List your contact information in your signature when you’re sending an email.
Subject (email reference)
List the name of the person you're writing a reference for in the subject of an email reference.
If you are writing a personal letter of reference, include a salutation (Dear Dr. Jennings, Dear Ms. Calavan, etc.). If you are writing a general reference letter, say “To Whom It May Concern" or start with the first paragraph of the letter.
Explain how you know the person you are recommending, how long you have known them, and why you are qualified to provide a reference for them.
Explain why the person you are recommending is qualified, what they can contribute, and why you are providing a reference letter. Be sure to use specific examples to speak to their qualifications.
Provide a brief summary of why you are recommending the person. State that you "recommend without reservation" or "strongly recommend" the person or something similar.
Offer to provide more information and include your phone number.
End your letter with a closing, following by your signature.
Include your phone number and email address in the return address section of a hard copy letter or, if you're sending an email, list your contact information under your name in the signature.
Before You Write a Reference
Think carefully about saying yes. Make sure you only agree to write the letter if you can write a positive recommendation. If you don’t think you can, tell the employee you are not comfortable writing the recommendation. It's better to decline than to write something that's less than a strong endorsement of the person's candidacy. Here’s how to turn down a recommendation request.
Collect information on the former employee. Ask the former employee for a copy of his or her resume or CV, so that you can speak to the employee’s specific work experience. If it's been a while since you worked with the employee, a resume is a great way to refresh your memory. Take a look at his or her LinkedIn profile, as well. You can also ask the person if there are any points they'd like you to highlight in your letter.
Tips for Writing a Reference Letter
Focus on the job description. Ask the former employee for a copy of the job description. Review it, then write about ways your former employee is a good match for the responsibilities of the position. Or, if you're writing a general recommendation, ask the employee for details about the type of position and industry. If you know the candidate is applying to be a medical assistant or a salesperson, for example, you can tailor your letter to mention relevant skills and experience accordingly.
Include specific examples. In the letter, provide specific examples of ways in which the employee demonstrated various skills. Try to think of examples from when the person worked for you. If you can use numbers to quantify their success, even better.
Remain positive. State that you think this person is a strong candidate. You might say something like you “recommend this person without reservation,” or you “would hire this person again” if you could. Emphasize this, especially at the beginning and conclusion of the letter. This will help this candidate stand out.
Share your contact information. Provide a way for the employer to contact you if they have further questions. Include your email address, telephone number, or both at the end of the letter.
Follow the submission guidelines. Ask your former employee how to submit the letter. Make sure you follow any requirements, especially about where to send it and when, as well as the format (for example, PDF, physical letter, etc.).
Review Samples and Templates
It is a good idea to review letter of recommendation samples before writing your letter. Along with helping with your layout, examples can help you see what kind of content you should include in your document.
You might also look at letter of recommendation templates to get a sense of how to layout your recommendation, and what to include (such as introductions and body paragraphs). There are also useful guidelines for formatting recommendation letters, including length, format, font, and how to organize your letters.
While examples, templates, and guidelines are great starting points, always be flexible. Tailor a letter example to fit the candidate’s work history and the job for which they are applying.
Reference Letter Example for an Employee
You can use this reference letter sample as a model. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Word Online), or read the text version below.
Reference Letter Example for an Employee (Text Version)
To Whom it May Concern:
I would like to recommend Muriel McKensie as a candidate for a position with your organization. In her position as Administrative Assistant, Muriel was employed in our office from 2016 - 2021. Throughout her time with our organization, she demonstrated critical skills that would make her an excellent employee at your company.
Muriel did a terrific job in her position and was an asset to our organization during her tenure with the office. She has excellent written and verbal communication skills, is extremely organized, can work independently, and is able to effectively multi-task to ensure that all projects are completed in a timely manner.
Because of her effectiveness, I even gave her additional responsibilities, including developing a training program for our interns. Muriel went above and beyond in that assignment, as she does in all tasks.
Muriel was always willing to offer her assistance and had an excellent rapport with the many constituents served by our office including clients, employers, and other professional organizations. This would be particularly valuable for your company, as you state you are looking for a candidate who can effectively communicate with people across departments.
She would be an asset to any employer, and I wholeheartedly recommend her for any endeavor she chooses to pursue. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Signature (hard copy letter)
123 Business Rd.
Business City, NY 54321