How to write a reference letter
First, when someone asks you for a reference letter, think whether you can actually give them a good recommendation. If you’re not sure you can recommend them without thinking twice, it’s best to politely decline sending the referral letter rather than be forced to lie (or make negative comments ruining the other person’s chances).
If you’re sure you can write a positive professional reference letter, follow this process:
- Refresh your memory about the person. For example, ask HR what their exact title was when they worked in your team and for how long they stayed. Consult your own records to see if there are useful notes about them.
- Write down two-three qualities that characterize this person. If you can recall specific examples that prove these qualities, put them in your reference letter too.
- Think about specific experiences you had with that person. Especially instances where they showed positive attitude or knowledge. Include one example in your letter if possible.
- Use our reference letter template to shape your own letter of recommendation format.
At any case, you might need to spend half an hour or so to write a good recommendation letter, but if you have good things to say, this person is worth it.
Here’s our reference letter template:
Dear [insert name],
I am writing to recommend [employee_name]. [He/She/They] worked with us at [company_name] as a [employee_job_title] and [reported to me/ worked with me] in my position as [insert your job title].
As an employee, [employee_name] was always [insert quality]. During [his/her/their] time in my team, [he/she/they] managed to [insert example].
I’ve always put a premium on [insert quality] among my team members and [employee_name] never failed to deliver. An example was when [insert example].
[Employee_name] is a delight to work with and I wouldn’t hesitate to hire [him/her/them] again.
Should you have any further questions about [him/her/them], feel free to reach me at [phone number].
[Your name and signature]
How to use this reference letter format:
- Flesh it out. Use one or two sentences to give context to each of your examples.
- Be flexible. Use the template as a guide, but write in your own voice and say what you think is important.
- Be honest. Your former employee or colleague may be asked about the examples you provided. Don’t embellish to make them look good since this may come out eventually.
- Be targeted, if you can. If you have information about the job or program the employee is applying to, tailor your letter to reflect specific requirements. For example, if you know this job requires leadership skills, give relevant examples.
Here’s a reference letter example based on our template:
Dear Mr. Skywalker,
I am writing to recommend Leia Thompson. She worked with me at Acme Inc. as a Senior Product Manager and reported to me in my position as VP of Engineering.
As an employee, Leia was always reliable and resourceful. During her time in my team, she managed to conduct high-impact user research and make a number of key recommendations that resulted in an improved product (and subsequently increased sales).
I’ve always put a premium on initiative and willingness to learn among my team members and Leia never failed to deliver on both fronts. An example was when she suggested we create a regular internal meetup where more senior employees could answer questions from other employees about their work. She was the first to take advantage of the knowledge these meetups offered and implemented it in her own work.
Leia is a delight to work with – a team player with a positive, can-do attitude all the way. I wouldn’t hesitate to hire her again if the opportunity arose.
Should you have any further questions, feel free to reach me at +10000000.
VP of Engineering, Acme Inc.