How to write a reference letter for an employee – a guide for employers & HR managers

Last checked and updated on 28 March 2022

If you’re an employer in the UK, you may be asked to provide a reference. But how to write a reference letter for an employee?

This guide will explain what a reference letter is, how to write one, and what to include.

What is a reference letter?

A reference letter is a document that provides an employer with information about an employee’s skills, abilities, and work ethic. A reference letter can also be used to provide an employer with an overview of an employee’s accomplishments.

If you have been asked to provide a reference letter for an employee, it is important to take the time to write a well-crafted letter that will be helpful to the employer.

When might an employee request a reference letter?

An employee might request a reference letter for a number of reasons. For example, an employee might need a reference letter to:

  • secure a new job
  • apply for a visa or immigration status
  • rent a house or flat

Why write a reference letter?

A reference letter can be a valuable asset to an employee who is looking for a new job. A well-written reference letter can attest to an employee’s skills, abilities, and work ethic, all of which can be helpful in landing a new job.

When to decline to provide a reference letter?

There are some situations where it may be appropriate to decline to provide a reference letter for an employee. For example, if you have only worked with the employee for a short period of time, or if you do not feel that you can provide a positive reference, it is probably best to declined.

Are there any legal requirement pertaining to employee reference letters?

In the UK, there are no legal requirements pertaining to employee reference letters. However, it is important to ensure that any information included in a reference letter is accurate and truthful. If an employer were to include false or misleading information in a reference letter, they could be sued for defamation.

Tips for writing a good employee reference

Here are some tips on how to write a reference letter for an employee:

  • Use a professional tone: The reference letter should be written in a professional tone. Avoid using personal opinion or bias in the letter.
  • Include specific examples: The reference letter should include specific examples of the employee’s skills and abilities.
  • Keep the letter short and to the point: The reference letter should be concise and to the point. Avoid including unnecessary information in the letter.
  • Use positive language: The reference letter should use positive language to describe the employee.
  • Proofread the letter: Be sure to proofread the reference letter before sending it to the employer.

Reference letters can be a valuable tool for employers. If you have been asked to provide a reference letter for an employee, follow these tips to ensure that your letter is helpful and informative.

Difference between professional and personal reference letters

There are two main types of reference letters: professional and personal.

A professional reference letter is typically written by a past employer, colleague, or supervisor. This type of letter will provide employers with an overview of an employee’s work ethic, skills, and abilities.

A personal reference letter is typically written by a friend or family member. This type of letter will provide employers with an overview of an employee’s character and personality.

When writing a reference letter, it is important to make sure that you are clear about the type of reference you are providing. If you are unsure, it is probably best to ask the employer for clarification.

What to include in a reference letter?

When writing a reference letter, there are certain elements that should be included. Here is a list of what to include in a reference letter:

  1. The name of the employee: Be sure to include the full name of the employee in the reference letter.
  2. The dates of employment: Include the dates of employment for the employee in the reference letter.
  3. A description of the employee’s duties: Include a brief description of the employee’s duties and responsibilities in the reference letter.
  4. The employee’s skills and abilities: Describe the employee’s skills and abilities in the reference letter.
  5. The employee’s work ethic: Discuss the employee’s work ethic in the reference letter.
  6. The employee’s accomplishments: Include any relevant accomplishments of the employee in the reference letter.
  7. A positive recommendation: Include a positive recommendation for the employee in the reference letter.

By including these elements in the reference letter, you will provide the employer with a well-rounded overview of the employee.

What not to include in a reference letter?

When writing a reference letter, there are certain elements that should not be included. Here is a list of what not to include in a reference letter:

  • Negative information about the employee: Avoid including any negative information about the employee in the reference letter.
  • False or misleading information: Do not include any false or misleading information in the reference letter.
  • Personal opinion or bias: Avoid using personal opinion or bias in the reference letter.
  • Confidential information: Do not include any confidential information about the employee in the reference letter.
  • Inappropriate language: Avoid using any inappropriate language in the reference letter.

By avoiding these elements, you will be able to write a positive and helpful reference letter.

When should a reference letter be sent?

A reference letter should be sent to the employer when requested. In most cases, the employer will request a reference letter after the job interview process has been completed.

How to format a reference letter?

There are no specific guidelines on how to format a reference letter. However, it is important to use a professional font and to avoid using personal opinion or bias in the letter.

Top 10 mistakes to avoid when writing a reference letter

When writing a reference letter, it is important to avoid making common mistakes. Here are the top 10 mistakes to avoid when writing a reference letter:

  1. Not including the employee’s name: Be sure to include the full name of the employee in the reference letter.
  2. Not including the dates of employment: Include the dates of employment for the employee in the reference letter.
  3. Not including a description of the employee’s duties: Include a brief description of the employee’s duties and responsibilities in the reference letter.
  4. Not including the employee’s skills and abilities: Describe the employee’s skills and abilities in the reference letter.
  5. Not including the employee’s work ethic: Discuss the employee’s work ethic in the reference letter.
  6. Not including the employee’s accomplishments: Include any relevant accomplishments of the employee in the reference letter.
  7. Not including a positive recommendation: Include a positive recommendation for the employee in the reference letter.
  8. Using personal opinion or bias: Avoid using personal opinion or bias in the reference letter.
  9. Not proofreading the letter: Be sure to proofread the reference letter before sending it to the employer.
  10. Not following the employer’s instructions: Follow the employer’s instructions on how to format and submit the reference letter.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you will be able to write a reference letter that is helpful and informative.

Reference letter template

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to provide a reference for {name}. I have known {name} for {length of time} and can attest to {his/her} character and work ethic.

{Name} held the position of {job title} for {length of time} from {starting month and year} until {leaving month and year}.

{He/she} is a highly skilled {job title} with a strong ability to {skill}. I have always been impressed with {his/her} dedication to {job duty}. In addition, {he/she} is a team player who is always willing to lend a helping hand.

{Name} would be a valuable asset to any organisation. I highly recommend {him/her} for any opportunity that may arise.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

{Your name}

Frequently asked questions

What should I include in a reference letter?

Include the employee’s name, job title, dates of employment, and a brief description of the employee’s duties and responsibilities. Additionally, describe the employee’s skills and abilities, work ethic, and accomplishments. Finally, recommend the employee for future opportunities.

How long should a reference letter be?

A reference letter should be one to two pages in length.

How do I format a reference letter?

here are no specific guidelines on how to format a reference letter. However, it is important to use a professional font and to avoid using personal opinion or bias in the letter.

What are the common mistakes to avoid when writing a reference letter?

The common mistakes to avoid when writing a reference letter include not including the employee’s name, not including the dates of employment, not including a description of the employee’s duties, not including the employee’s skills and abilities, not including the employee’s work ethic, not including the employee’s accomplishments, not including a positive recommendation, using personal opinion or bias, not proofreading the letter, and not following the employer’s instructions.

Can I use a reference letter template?

Yes, you can use a reference letter template to help you write a professional and informative letter. However, be sure to customize the template to fit your specific situation.

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Important – The information provided in our articles is intended to be for general purpose use only, and not advice for you or your business. We strive to publish accurate information, but encourage you to fact-check and seek expert guidance. We recommend that you always speak to a qualified professional to get advice about how to operate your business under your specific requirements and circumstances.