How to Write a Reference for an Employee & Sample Letter

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Fear of defamation lawsuits has caused many employers to restrict the contents of reference letters to prospective employers. Restrictions typically allow only verification of the former employee's position held and dates of employment. However, employers may not restrict what employees do on their own time. Employees may send reference letters from home as long as it is clear that the letter reflects only their personal opinions and does not represent their employer.

Review your company's policy regarding reference letters for a former employee. Do not write the letter on your work computer or send it from work if the policy restricts the contents of a reference letter.

Talk to the person for whom you are writing the letter and get a full understanding of the job for which she is applying.

Insert the date and address the letter directly to the hiring manager.

Explain how you know the applicant and your relationship to her. Include the name of the company where you worked together, if applicable.

Include the applicant's dates of employment and last job title to confirm the information in the applicant's resume for the prospective employer. Do not include the applicant's pay rate, rehire status or any personnel records.

Write a brief description of the work the person did for you or with you and how her experience will help her succeed in the new position. Avoid cliches.

Mention significant achievements, relevant trainings and any awards the applicant won.

Proofread the letter and ask a friend to proofread it also. Error-free reference letters are more respectable.

Send the letter directly to the prospective employer as soon as possible.


  • Remain neutral and factual if your reference letter represents the applicant's former employer rather than your personal opinions.


  • Be careful about what you include. Some states require companies, upon written request, to send applicants a copy of letters that may affect their employment eligibility.