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How To Write A Reference Letter For Employees: Best Practices & Tips

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As a boss, you carry many responsibilities for your team. You must manage their day-to-day operations, give them instructions, and oversee entire projects.

However, your responsibilities sometimes extend outside of the workplace. There will be times when people leave your team for positions at other companies, and when that happens, you might be asked for a reference letter for employees.

While you are not required to write a reference letter for anyone, it is a professional courtesy. If they were good employees, studious, and did their work, you should write them a reference letter to help them advance their careers.

What Is a Reference Letter for an Employee?

A reference letter for an employee or a character reference letter is a recommendation for a new job. When people apply for new positions, they often need references for a job.

As the supervisor of several employees, you will likely be asked to write several reference letters. A reference letter should discuss the employee’s character, work ethic, and ability to transition to a new job.

What Should You Do if an Employee Asks for a Reference Letter?

Most people will be asked for a job reference list when they apply. References are required for many positions, even if it is a first job, so getting them from the right people is crucial.

If an employee asks you for a reference letter, you should write it for them. You should only not write them a reference if you have a good reason not to. If you genuinely believe they were a bad employee, you can reject their request for a reference letter.

The only other situation you should reject a request is if you do not have time. If you have too much on your plate to commit to writing a high-quality reference letter, you can tell them no.

What To Include in a Reference Letter for an Employee

When you get asked to write a reference letter for an employee, you might not know what to write, primarily if you have not written one before. Here we will go over the main topics you should cover in most reference letters.

Your Name and Contact Information

Some of the most important things to include in a reference letter are your name and contact information. A reference letter does not mean much if a potential employer cannot check your credentials. They want to know that the person writing the letter has the qualifications to speak to the character and work ethic of their prospective employee.

Furthermore, it is crucial to include your contact information. While not all employers contact prospective employees’ references, it is not uncommon.

They might contact one or several of their references for clarification or further questioning. You should always include an email address and phone number for the employer to contact you.

If an employee chooses to contact you, they will ask you a few questions about the prospective employee. They may need clarification on something you put in your letter.

Regardless of the reason, it is commonplace to include contact information in a reference letter.


You should always include a greeting when writing a reference letter. The letter should not look like an essay you wrote in grade 10 English class. Remember, you are writing a letter to a specific person, so you should greet them.

The greeting should be formal but friendly. Remember, you do not know the person, so it is crucial to be professional. However, you are trying to give a good impression of your employee, so being friendly is essential.

Intro Paragraph About Your Relationship

The first paragraph you write should outline your relationship with the person you are writing the letter for. Discuss how you met and the quality of your working relationship.

You do not need to go into immense detail here, but the person receiving the letter should be able to tell how you feel about the person. Are you friends with the person, or are you just their boss?

Second Paragraph About Their Qualifications and Skills

The second paragraph should discuss the employee’s qualifications and skills. There is no need to write anything subjectively here.

This is the section of the letter to be as objective as possible. Highlight the most significant projects your employee has worked on at your company. Inform the new employer about the skills you value the most from this employee.

You do not need to list specific certifications and degrees the employee has because they would have included that on their resume.

Instead, discuss the employee’s achievements while they were under your supervision. Discuss their growth as a worker and how you expect them to continue to improve in their field.

Third Paragraph About Why You Recommend Them

The final body paragraph of your reference letter should include your reasons for recommending your employee for their new job. Here you can be as subjective as you want and let your biases show.

Do not be afraid to exaggerate things in favor of your employee, especially if you like them personally. Here is the place to recommend your colleague and friend for a position that will advance their career.


You can end the recommendation letter with a conclusion paragraph. The conclusion should recap significant points from the body of your letter. However, you should not let the conclusion drag out too much with needless fluff.

Sign Off

Finally, end your letter with a sign-off. Your sign-off should match the tone you used in your salutation. So, depending on your greeting, you will use a different sign-off.

How Do You Write a Good Reference for an Employee?

Several things go into writing a good reference letter for an employee. Here will discuss the top things you should consider.

How Do You Start a Reference Letter?

You should start your reference letter by making it clear who you are.

Discuss your relationship with the employee and how you feel they have performed at their job. You do not need to get in-depth here because you will get into specifics later in the letter.

However, you should clarify that you have positive feelings about this employee and believe they will thrive in a new environment.

How To Format an Employee Reference Letter

There is no perfect way to format an employee reference letter. You can make adjustments how you see fit, but there are some practices you should follow.

Notably, you should include your name, position, and contact information at the top of the letter. Make it clear who you are and ensure they can easily contact you if they desire.

You should then start with a salutation before getting into the letter itself. You can start with an intro paragraph that establishes your relationship with the employee you are writing the letter for.

Do not get into detail about specific tasks here. You will do that in later sections. Instead, the intro paragraph should primarily focus on your relationship with the employee.

When you reach the second paragraph, you can start praising your employees for their work for your company. You can discuss projects they have worked on and the success they have had. Here is the place for you to discuss their most valuable skills as an employee.

The final body paragraph should explain why you recommend them for a new job. Discuss why you think it is time for them to advance in their career. Do not be afraid to be subjective in this section.

Finally, wrap everything up with a conclusion paragraph and a sign-off.

How Long Should an Employee Reference Letter Be?

An employee reference letter should not be longer than a page. You can split it up differently from how we described above, but it should not exceed a single page in Microsoft Word. That is with your contact information, salutation, and sign-off included.

Tips for Writing a Reference Letter for an Employee

Here are a few tips for writing a reference letter.

Focus on the Job Description

When writing a letter, focus on the job description. The person that asked to write the letter will let you know what the job is. Focus on things that are relevant to the job they are applying for.

Include Anecdotes and Examples

Always back up the things you say with relevant anecdotes and examples. Unsubstantiated claims will look like you are trying to pump the tires of an employee that does not deserve it.

Be Positive Without Exaggerating

Always be positive in your reference letters, but do not exaggerate. Exaggerating can hurt the person’s chance of getting the job.

Employers understand that references will put a positive spin on things to help their friends, family, and employees. However, they can usually recognize if you are stretching the truth so far that the statements become false.

Be Honest

Be as honest as possible. You can put a positive spin on things, but do not stretch the truth too much. Honesty is a valuable trait as an employee, and if you are dishonest, the hiring manager might assume it was at the request of the prospective employee.

Share Your Contact Information

You should always include your contact information in a reference letter. Put it at the top of the page so it is readily available.

Including contact information is crucial because employers often contact references with follow-up questions.

Follow Guidelines

Finally, follow any guidelines given to you by the person who asked for the recommendation letter. Remember, you are writing a letter for an employee, not to impress the hiring manager yourself.

So, focus on the things your employee requested because they are probably things needed for the position they are applying for.

Wrapping Up

Writing a recommendation letter for an employee is a big responsibility. You should take it seriously and take your time.

If you were unsure of how to write a reference letter for an employee, you should have a good idea now. You can follow our instructions or use them as a baseline while making adjustments.

Fortunately, writing a reference letter is not very challenging. Once you write one, you will know what to do for future letters. So, try not to stress too much about writing your first one, as you should not have much trouble.

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