Your reference letter template for recommending an employeeHays: Working For Your Tomorrowon July 10, 2024 at 1:54 pm Career advice | Career tips


Has an employee come to you asking for a recommendation letter ahead of starting a new role? How are you going to make sure you give them the best reference possible?

Alternatively, what if you’re unwilling to write a positive reference letter when the employee hasn’t impressed you? Is there a way that you can fulfil your role as a referee without compromising your professionalism.

If you find yourself in either position, you’re not the first person to wonder how to go about things. Here’s our handy guide to writing a recommendation letter for an employee, along with samples.

If you’re asking somebody to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, read our advice here.

What to include in a recommendation letter for an employee

The key things that a hiring manager will want to know from reading your reference letter will be:

The employee has done the things they’ve claimedThe employee has made a positive impression

You should try to make each recommendation letter specific to the employee. That said, there are several points that every professional reference should include. These are:

Dates you worked togetherTheir responsibilitiesTheir skillset and abilitiesTheir professionalism

 As a general rule, your letter of recommendation should be up to one page. The closer to one full page, the better – a very short reference will imply that you’re less willing to make an effort to endorse the employee.

This brings us to the next point that is very important – you’re under no obligation to champion anybody as a strong candidate if you don’t believe that to be the case. In the examples below, we’ll look at what to do in this position.

Check your company’s policy relating to references

At some organisations, references will be supplied by the HR Department and will simply confirm the employee’s active dates and role titles. In this instance, you should make it clear that your letter of recommendation comes in your name and is not written on behalf of the organisation.

Reference letter template for an employee

Below is a reference letter template you can use for the next time you’re asked to make a referral.

State your relationship to the employee

Start your reference letter by introducing yourself and explaining how you know the employee. If you are providing a reference for an employee at a previous employer, make this clear:

“My name is [name] and I am the [role] at [organisation]. I supervised [name] from [date] to [date] at [organisation], during which time they worked in the [team/department].”

Highlight any relevant skills 

Give examples of the employee’s strengths and skills. This should be a combination of soft skills and more technical capabilities:

“[Name] is a fast learner and was soon confident in carrying out their role. They are strong in communicating ideas to the team and wider business, which has helped us to achieve [X]. Their [technical skill] came in use throughout their time at [organisation].”

This is just a brief sample – the more examples and detail you provide, the stronger your recommendation. If you don’t want to stake your reputation on this person, keep it brief but don’t be negative.

Reference any responsibilities and projects

It’s time to add more on their responsibilities and achievements. The hiring manager will want you to confirm that they actually did the things they’ve claimed on their CV or during an interview.

Mention any stakeholders the employee may have worked with, including their relationships within your team. Here are some samples you can use in your reference letter:

“[Name] has been a highly valued member of the team, where their main responsibilities have evolved from [responsibility] to [responsibility]. They have proven to be a team player on numerous occasions by assisting in other responsibilities outside of their remit, such as [responsibility].”

“[Name] has shown the ability to do [ability], which has been especially beneficial to the business when working on [project] with [stakeholder].”

If you want to strongly recommend somebody, this part of the letter should contain three to five examples. Also, ask them about the new role and pick out any past experiences together that would be relevant.

If you’re less comfortable making an endorsement, you can reference the responsibilities without mentioning their performance or achievements/outcomes.

Sign off your letter of recommendation 

Finally, express whether you’d actually recommend your employee for the role. Then provide contact details for the hiring manager to reach you if they have any further questions. For example:

I greatly enjoyed my time working with [name] and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them for future opportunities. They have demonstrated professionalism throughout their career at [organisation] and I’ve observed first-hand that they possess the skills required to succeed in the future.

If you require any further information about the points above, or wish to know more about [name]’s previous responsibilities or experience, please contact me at [email address].”

This is important: you shouldn’t speak negatively about the employee. Instead, failing to explicitly endorse them will send the message that you don’t rate them particularly highly. If that’s the case, then you can make your sign-off more concise.

Writing a letter of recommendation for a friend 

Of course, not every request for a letter of recommendation will come from an employee. What if a friend asks you?

There are a few key differences you’ll have to make when writing a reference letter for a friend. Just as outlined in the reference letter template above, you should start by explaining how you know the person and for how long.

Remember, unless you’ve worked together previously, you probably shouldn’t discuss their professional experience. However, you can reference any accomplishments, as well as relevant traits that an employer would want to know about.

Lastly, while the template above is for a recommendation letter of up to a page, a reference letter for a friend should be shorter. Keep it around three to four paragraphs.

Final thoughts on writing a recommendation letter

The amount of effort you put into writing a recommendation letter for an employee or friend will reflect your opinion of them. By offering more examples of their skills and achievements, as well as their impact, you’ll be able to give them the ringing endorsement they deserve.

Are you leading a team or hiring for a new role? Here’s more advice on navigating common challenges: 

How to put a very nervous candidate at easeHow to handle an employee’s pay rise requestFour key traits of the most compassionate leaders

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