Employee Reference Letters (With Template and Sample)

Illustration of man typing reference letter.Text reads:

When an employee wants to return to school or apply for a new job, they may ask you for a reference letter. Learning about the different types of reference letters and templates can help you write a letter that accurately reflects your employee’s best qualities and characteristics.

Related: How to Write an Employment Verification Letter
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What is an employee reference letter?

An employee reference letter, sometimes also known as a recommendation letter, is a document detailing the employee’s time with the company, their achievements and sometimes, an endorsement. A manager, human resources representative, mentor or employer usually writes an employee reference letter. When you write a reference letter, it’s important to carefully consider the employee, your relationship with them and the aspects of their job in which they excel.


Three types of employee reference letters

There are three types of reference letters that employees seek from employers, including:


Employment reference

When an employee applies for a new job, they may need to ask a previous employer for a professional employment reference letter to submit with their application and resume. An employment reference letter informs the potential employer why they are a good fit for a job.

Employees can use reference letters for other purposes. Sometimes they put employee reference letters on personal websites for recruiters and hiring managers to see. They may also keep them as part of their portfolio.

If an employee applies for a mortgage or rental space, they may need an employment reference letter. These letters include the employee’s job title, employment dates and sometimes, salary information. Banks use these letters to determine the employee’s ability to repay a loan or pay rent.


Academic reference

Candidates seeking entry into a university program may need an academic reference letter. Employees often ask their employers to write a reference letter that describes their work ethic and qualifications.

Admissions boards use academic reference letters to determine if students are a good fit for the program. The information in these letters includes specific tasks and professionals skills which may not be addressed by other parts of the application. This makes an academic letter of reference an important part of a submission.


Character reference

If a candidate is applying for a high-level position or seeking entrance to a professional organization, they may need a character reference letter. Sometimes referred to as a personal reference, this letter details an employee’s character, work ethic and other attributes.

Companies and organizations ask for character reference letters to determine if the candidate is a good cultural fit. An employer should only write a character reference letter if they have a close personal relationship with the employee. That way, they can accurately describe the employee’s personality.


What to include in an employee reference letter

When you write a letter of reference, include this information:

  • Relationship with the candidate: To establish yourself as a reliable reference, describe your relationship with the employee. Include your professional relationship, the length of time you’ve known the employee and if you know them on a personal level.


    • Employment dates: Include the start and end dates of employment if applicable. Most recipients need to know the length of employment to process applications.


    • Why they are a strong candidate: Add at least one specific experience that you shared with the employee that shows their capabilities. Detail the skills they used and the outcome of the experience.


    • Reason for writing the endorsement: The purpose of most reference letters is to recommend an employee for a position or entrance into a school or organization. Describe why you think the employee would make a good fit based on your knowledge of them.


  • Contact information: Add your email address and phone number at the bottom of the letter as well as a note offering to answer questions if needed.


Employee reference letter tips

Here are some tips to consider when writing an employee reference letter:


Be confident about the employee

Writing a letter of reference is a big endorsement. Before you agree to write a reference letter for an employee, make sure the employee is good for the position. Learn about the role or academic program. If you don’t know enough about the employee to write the letter, inform them as quickly as possible, which allows the employee to get a reference from someone else who can confidently write on their behalf.


Include job description information

Ask the employee for the job description or details of the program or organization so you can write a tailored letter. Doing this ensures you address key skills and qualifications for the hiring manager. If you don’t have the job description available, describe the abilities and skills you’ve seen the employee demonstrate in the workplace.


Be specific with examples

It’s more effective to refer to specific examples rather than listing skills. Instead of writing, “They always help other employees,” write, “Last week, they helped an employee learn how to operate our digital filing system, which was above and beyond their prescribed duties.” The recipient will have a much clearer perspective of the employee’s potential.

Related: Job Offer Letter Format With Template


Reference letter template

Here is a template that you can use for your next letter of reference:

Dear [Recipient’s name],
[Statement of Reference: Offers context to why you are writing the letter]
[Body Paragraph: Includes candidate background. Describe the time they spent working for manager]
[Body Paragraph: Includes examples of relevant skills developed]
[Body Paragraph: Includes specific examples of employee achievement]
[Closing Statement: Summarizes the letter’s intent]
[Your name]
[Contact information]


References letter example

Review this example to learn more about what an effective reference letter contains:
Dear Vicky Proctor,
I’m writing to you today to recommend Jeremy Krueger for the position of payroll manager at your organization, Winston Family Company.
Jeremy worked as a payroll specialist for Johnson Storage, where I was a manager between the years of 2012 and 2019. When I worked with Jeremy, he was a payroll specialist and I was his direct supervisor. I worked directly with Mr. Krueger to ensure payroll was fast and accurate. During this time, he displayed the skills and attitude required for the job.
Some of Jeremy’s duties included calculating payroll taxes, processing payroll for more than 100 employees and updating employee records. Over the years, Jeremy developed and perfected the skills needed for the role.
When Jeremy was my employee, he took it upon himself to digitize our payroll records, managing the project in its entirety. Mr. Krueger’s ability to prioritize, determine what needs to be done and act on would be a valuable asset to any payroll position. That’s why I’m happy to recommend Jeremy for the role.
Allison Peet


Reference letter FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about reference letters:


Do reference letters ever have specific instructions?

Sometimes letters of reference have submission requirements. This could mean they are part of an application packet and must be submitted with other materials. There may also be requirements for what is included in the letter. In other cases, requirements might include creating a digital letter versus a physical one. To write the best letter of reference for your former employee, make sure you understand all of the requirements needed for submission.


What should I do if an employee asks for a reference letter?

First, you need to feel confident recommending the employee. If you want to proceed, collect all of the requirements first before crafting the letter. Ask about the purpose, submission requirements and deadline. Once you finish the letter, proofread it before you send it out.

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