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How to Write an Employment Reference Letter 

Job Applicant Passing Her Documents - employment reference letter

If you have people under you at work, there will likely come a time when they will ask you to be a reference for them so they can move on with their careers. Whether they’re moving to a new town, are ready to try a new industry, or want to move up a level, it’s up to you to provide a positive employment reference letter. 

But how do you do it? 

We’ll guide you through the steps below. If it’s been a while since you hired anyone, it’s a good idea to browse through some of the job listings on ZipRecruiter and familiarize yourself with the kinds of qualifications and soft skills employers are looking for. That way, you know what to highlight in your letter. 

What Is an Employment Reference Letter? 

An employment reference letter is a letter an employer or manager writes to advise a potential employer about a current or past employee’s attributes. It will cover things like their disposition and the way they approach their work. In addition, it will mention their skills and abilities, how they work within the team, their strengths, and any notable achievements. 

If you know which position for which your employee is applying, you might want to look it up on ZipRecruiter. This platform serves as the #1 job search site in the United States, so there’s a fair chance you can find the listing there. Read over what the company has written and tailor your employee reference letter to what the employer is looking for.

While you’re at it, you might want to make a company profile on the site. If you do this, you’ll be able to connect with potential candidates to fill the outgoing employee’s role. You can post your own job listings and tell the platform what you’re hoping to find. Then, AI technology will match you with the best candidates for the job. You can pick your favorites, politely reject those in whom you’re not interested, and even invite the best ones to apply. 4 out of 5 that use ZipRecruiter find a qualified applicant within 24 hours!

Why Write an Employment Reference Letter? 

Focused freelancer using laptop in street cafe - employment reference letter

To some, writing an employment reference letter may seem counterintuitive. After all, why would you want to help one of your favorite employees leave?

But, even if you’re sad to see someone go, it’s in your best interests to write them a letter if they ask for it. The only time to refuse to write an employment reference letter is if you genuinely can’t recommend them.

Writing employment reference letters may be bittersweet, but doing so proves to your team that you are trustworthy and professional. You’ll be there to help them achieve their aspirations, even if that’s no longer with your company. 

How to Write a Reference Letter in 5 Steps 

Step 1: State the Purpose of the Letter 

Employment reference letter templates are generally pretty dry affairs. You’ll be stating the facts and your feelings, but you’ll need to keep it professional, even if you’re really excited about this particular employee’s skills.

Start with a statement like, “I’m writing to you to provide a reference for [name of employee].” 

Then, quickly describe who you are, so the reader understands the context of everything to follow. For example, “I’m Luke Woods, Marketing Manager at [company], and I’ve been working with [name of employee] for two and a half years.” 

Step 2: Introduce the Employee 

Your next step is to introduce the employee in the context of their current position. For example, you may say “Sally has been at [company] for three years, first working as a Marketing Assistant before moving into her current role as Social Media Manager after a year.” 

Step 3: Describe the Employee and Their Achievements 

Female student using laptop near tea mug in room - employment reference letter

Now you can write 1-3 paragraphs describing the employee. You can cover: 

  • Their approach to work 
  • Whether they work best alone, as a team, or both 
  • What you most appreciate about working with them each day 
  • Times they’ve impressed you 
  • Any awards they may have received 
  • About their responsibilities 
  • How they’ve grown in the time they’ve been with the company 

Again, if you’re not sure what to highlight, check similar jobs on ZipRecruiter and use some of the keywords and phrases they use to describe the person they’re looking for. 

Step 4: Leave Lines of Communication Open 

As long as you’re comfortable doing so, wrap up your employment reference letter by leaving the line of communication open so the hiring manager can ask any questions they may have. The good news here is that they will rarely reach out to you, but being willing to do so shows you and the employee have nothing to hide. 

You can say something like, “If you have any questions feel free to hit reply on this email, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can,” or “If you have any questions, you can email me at or call me on [number].” 

Step 5: Sign Off

Finally, finish the letter with a wrap-up sentence and your signature. If you’re emailing your employee reference letter directly, you can use your normal email signature, but you may need to sign it personally with a pen, depending on the company. 

The wrap-up sentence isn’t necessary, but it’s a nice way to finish the letter. Something like, “Sally will be a great addition to your team, and I’ll be sad to see her go.” 

Taking the Next Steps

You can provide the employment reference letter to the individual who asked for it or send it directly, depending on what is required by the other company. Once you’ve sent the letter, get on ZipRecruiter to look for a suitable replacement.

We’ve got more advice for you! Learn How to Hire People for Contract Positions if your next hire will be temporary, or learn How to Recruit For Your Company Faster to ensure you find your next hire as soon as possible.

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