Writing a Reference Letter: Template and Example

By Jennifer Herrity

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published January 13, 2021

Updated February 22, 2021

Published January 13, 2021

Jennifer Herrity is a career coach at Indeed who has worked with job seekers from various industries over the last 12 years. She creates resources to help people navigate career challenges with tools and techniques she has refined through practical experience.

As you advance in your career, you might have colleagues or team members ask you for a reference letter. It's important to understand what's expected of you when accepting the task of writing a reference letter. Know how to respond to the request to help you confidently support your coworkers. In this article, we explain what a reference letter is, describe the various types of reference letters, list what to include in a reference letter and offer a reference letter template and example.

Related: Character Reference Letter Sample and Tips

What is a reference letter?

A reference letter is a document used to help job seekers secure employment, volunteer positions or other civic or professional opportunities. Commonly, people applying for jobs will ask previous supervisors, managers, colleagues or classmates for reference letters which share the applicant's accomplishments, suitability, character and skills for the position.

Related: How to Write a Reference Letter: Steps, Tips and Examples

Types of reference letters

A friend, colleague or employee might ask you to write a reference letter. Since there are several types of reference letters, it's vital to know what they're hoping to achieve with the help of your recommendation. Most reference letters fit in one of four categories:

Academic reference letters

An academic reference letter is most commonly written by an applicant's former teachers or professors, but could also be written by an applicant's classmate. Academic reference letters are common for situations in which the applicant has limited work experience or professional connections to use.

Employment reference letters

An employment reference letter is usually written by an applicant's former employer or high-level supervisor. These letters attest to the candidate's past work performance and accomplishments from a managerial angle.

Personal reference letters

Personal reference letters are usually written by an applicant's close personal friend who can provide information about the candidate's qualities and character rather than their job performance and abilities.

Professional reference letters

Professional reference letters are usually written by an applicant's former colleagues or coworkers. These letters generally provide information about the candidate's job performance and skills from the perspective of an equal rather than a superior.

Related: How to Refer Someone for a Job (With Letter Template and Example)

What to include in a reference letter

Whether you're writing an academic, employment, personal or professional reference letter, most follow a similar format and include the same elements:

  • Context: Make sure you provide the reader with the appropriate context for your letter, which usually means explaining who you are and your relationship to the applicant.

  • Qualifications: The bulk of your letter should provide the applicant's qualifications that you can verify.

  • Contact info: Offer your contact information so the hiring manager can call or email you with additional questions if needed.

Reference letter format

Most reference letters follow this basic format:

Salutation

In the salutation, address the recipient of the letter by name if you have their name or by title if you know it. Include the date.

Introduction paragraph

The first paragraph under the salutation should provide the reader with context. Provide your name, the applicant's name and how you're connected. Describe the specifics of your relationship and how long you've known each other.

Accomplishments paragraph

Describe your experience working with or supervising the applicant. Consider including a specific anecdote that highlights one of the applicant's particularly stellar achievements and that relates directly to the position or opportunity for which they're applying.

Qualifications paragraph

In the final body paragraph, provide specific skills, knowledge and qualities the candidate has that make them an excellent choice for the position or opportunity.

Conclusion

Conclude by explicitly offering your recommendation for the applicant with a final summary describing why they're a strong choice for the role.

Signature

Close the letter with your formal signature and contact information, including your phone number and email address.

Related: What Is an Employment Reference Letter?: Definition and Steps to Write One

Reference letter template

Use this template to help you outline and format your own reference letter for an employee or colleague:

[Date]
Dear [name or title of recipient],

I'm writing on behalf of [applicant's name]. I was their [connection/relationship] at [company or organization] for [number of years of relationship]. Based on our professional relationship, I feel confident I can provide you with insight into their suitability for [position or opportunity].

[Applicant's name] is a [descriptor of work] for [company name]. In the [length of time you've known the applicant], I've seen [short list of accomplishments]. In particular, [describe specific accomplishment that highlights necessary skill or knowledge for the position or opportunity].

In addition to [accomplishment from previous paragraph], [applicant's name] continually demonstrates [list of skills, qualities or attributes related to the position for which they're applying]. They are a [description of work ethic or character trait].

I am delighted to recommend [applicant's name] for the [name of position or opportunity]. I would be happy to provide more information about [applicant's name]'s work at [company] if needed.

Sincerely,
[Your name]
[Your title]
[Your phone number]
[Your email address]

Related: Q&A: Should You Include References on a Resume?

Reference letter example

Review this example to see how you can use the provided template to structure your own unique reference letter:

February 8, 2021
Dear Ms. Larkin,

I'm writing on behalf of Alex Marsden. I was their supervisor at Bridge Publishing for three years. Based on our professional relationship, I feel confident I can provide you with insight into their substantial suitability for the lead editor position.

Alex Marsden is a junior editor for Bridge Publishing. In the three years I've had the pleasure of supervising Alex, I've seen extraordinary growth in their skills, knowledge and accomplishments. In particular, Alex has continually taken professional development opportunities, deftly absorbed the information and ideas provided at those training sessions and used them to improve their editing and the writing of their team members.

In addition to a clear devotion to their craft and skill set, Alex continually demonstrates admirable leadership qualities like delegation, compassion and organization. Alex is a bastion of professionalism, and I'm pleased they'll have the opportunity to use the skills they've honed here at Bridge with your organization.

I am delighted to recommend Alex Marsden for the lead editor position at your company. I would be happy to provide more information about Alex's work at Bridge Publishing if needed.

Sincerely,
Tammy Jones
Head of Publishing
555-555-5555
tammy.jones@bridgepub.email

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