How to Write a Reference Letter (with Free Template)

Reference letters are a staple of the business and educational world. If you hold any management position or regularly employ freelancers, you’ll likely be asked to write a reference letter for someone eventually.

Since reference letters can have a huge impact on someone’s career and if they get hired for a potential job, it’s important to make sure you get it right when you’re tasked with writing a reference for someone – a poorly written letter could end up preventing someone from getting their dream job.

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely just been tasked with writing a reference letter. If that’s the case, you’re in the right place. Here, we’re going to walk you through the parts of a reference letter and give you a template that you can use when you’re writing yours.

What Is a Reference Letter?

A reference letter is a letter of endorsement for someone’s skills and expertise. Typically, an employee will ask one of their former managers, bosses, coworkers, or other colleagues for a reference letter when applying to a job or educational program. If the person requesting the letter is young, they may ask a teacher instead.

Reference letters are important because they help potential employers get a more personalized view of the applicant. By getting a firsthand account of a candidate’s performance and character, they are able to make a decision based on information that may not be readily apparent on a resume.

Generally, you will only want to write a reference letter for someone you can truly endorse. If you don’t think you can say something good, then it’s generally best not to write the letter. Sometimes, there can even be legal action against negative reference letters.

What Are the Elements of a Reference Letter?

Reference letters should all have five parts: an introduction, details about the candidate, whether you’re recommending them or not, examples that support your decision, and a concluding summary.

In your introduction, you need to set the scene for the reader: who are you? What was your relationship with the candidate? Why are you writing this letter?

Next, you should include more specific details about the candidate and your experience working with them. This is a good time to include some positive anecdotes about their work. You can also highlight their past experience and how it may be helpful.

After that, you should give your honest opinion as to whether you think the person you’re writing about would be a good fit for the position. Then, in the next section, provide some details that support your position.

Overall, you will only want to write a reference letter for someone you believe you can genuinely recommend. If you’re tasked with writing a reference letter for someone you can’t endorse, then focus on being scant on details instead of saying anything directly negative.

Finally, close out with a summary of your letter. Let the receiver know whether you’re available for further contact and discussion.

Key Takeaways

Reference letters can have a huge impact on the career trajectory of the person you’re recommending (or not). When you’re tasked with writing one, you have a lot of responsibility on your hands, so you should ensure you give it your all.

Reference letters are used to gain new insight into qualities of a candidate that aren’t apparent from their resume. Because of this, you should focus on your personal experiences and anecdotes. Don’t just rewrite their resume for them – provide some unique stories and positive qualities that you can only know after working with them for a period of time.

Of course, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is whether or not to write the letter in the first place. If you don’t believe you’ll be able to say much about the candidate or you don’t feel like you know them well enough, you can always decline.

However, in some cases, it may be necessary to write a negative reference letter. For example, if you know someone is so irresponsible that they’d be a danger to the company, then it would make sense to write a letter of non-recommendation.

Overall, the key to writing a good reference letter is to stay personal. So, trust your gut, and you’ll likely find that it will come out great.

Sam Molony

Sam Molony is the marketing strategist at ZoomShift, the leading employee scheduling software. When Sam's not publishing or promoting new content you can find him playing his guitar or baking.

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