Writing a Reference Letter for a Job - Free Template, Examples [2020]

reference letter examples

A reference letter is something that all job seekers, friends, family members, or colleagues will request at some point in their life. These letters are used both professionally and personally. In a professional setting, a reference letter is used to show a potential employer validation of the skills or previous work experience that the job seeker has marked on their resume. In a personal setting, these reference letters can be key indicators for good tenants while searching for rental properties.

A character reference letter, not to be confused with a reference letter for a job (a professional reference letter), is going to use the same reference letter example provided below. But should signify a much different set of information from your references.

Personal Reference or Professional Reference

Here is the difference between a personal reference and a professional reference. Writing a personal reference means that you’ll be describing the person's characteristics (the person’s character) and providing the reader with insights and information regarding your recommendation about their character. For example, listing experiences where the person showed a high degree of reliability and responsibility if you’re providing a personal reference for a real estate property.

When writing a professional reference, your recommendation may speak to the significant work experience you shared together and allude to validating the skills and previous work experience listed on the professional's resume.

If you’re looking for a recommendation template, go here.

Recommendation Letter or Reference

The difference between a recommendation letter and reference is how they’re used in the application process. As an applicant, in both personal and professional settings, you may have the other party asking for a reference on behalf of the person or professional. For example, in a hiring situation, the employer may be wanting a reference by the applicant in order to validate their skills.

This is different from a letter of recommendation, because this reference is being solicited by the employer. While a recommendation letter is an evergreen note that the employee, student, or other. That note is something that shows the employee is a high-quality candidate versus requesting to validate specific parts of the employees work experience or past.

More Details About a Reference Letter

A reference letter is a business letter, meaning it should be written in a formal letter format. You should use formal language and speak in a way that highlights the person or professional you are vouching for in a positive, professional, and respectful manner.

This letter can be written for the following reasons:

As the letter writer, you’ll need to be sure that the request you’ve received contains the appropriate information to be able to make a valid reference. For example, a job reference should include the details regarding what the employer is looking to validate, so the recommender can speak to situations and examples which provide an accurate letter for their job application. These requests may come from a former employee and may include requests that the hiring manager has to you, the reference writer.

Alternatively, for a person’s character and reference of that, you should be provided with information regarding the type of situation the reference is being used for. Whether it’s for an academic committee or real estate lease, you need the appropriate information to be able to write a successful letter.

Assets that you may want to ask for or provide before writing a reference letter:

As an Academic Advisor, direct supervisor, colleague, friend, family member, or acquaintance; you may be asked to write a reference letter.

What Goes Inside Your Reference Letter

Within the reference letter should be a few paragraphs and your contact information.

Contact information: Your personal phone number, email address, relationship to the person you’re referencing, current job title, employed company, and more.

Formal greeting: Never say “Dear Sir or Madam”, use a formal salutation and greeting like, “Dear Future Employer” or “Dear Mr. Smith” if you know the person's name that asked for the reference. In an academic reference letter, you may want to say, “Dear Harvard Scholarship Committee”. Or "Dear MBA Committee" when writing an MBA recommendation letter or reference letter. If you're writing a landlord reference letter, you should still use the recipient or readers full name.

First paragraph: Within the first paragraph of your reference letter, you should speak to the person you are referencing, why you are recommending them (the reason for the letter), what the request was by the person who asked for the reference (for example, needing to validate leadership skills, previous work experience, or the candidate’s qualifications).

Second paragraph: Within your second paragraph, you should include data points, insights, accomplishments, or experiences that support what the reference requires. This would be special moments that signify important events either in your personal experience or professional experience with the reference. For a character reference, this may be moments where the person’s character was shown. This second paragraph is your true “body paragraph”.

Formal closing: Close your letter by saying thank you, telling the reader if they have any further questions to contact you and close the letter formally.

Reference Letter Format Tips

Below are simple formatting guidelines for keeping your reference letter professional and readable.

Sample Letter

Below is a sample employment reference letter for a prospective employer. This specific example is being used for employment purposes and should not be confused with a sample character reference letter or personal reference letter. Use this sample reference letter as a guide when writing yours.

reference letter examples

Below is a template that can be used for a business reference letter, employment reference, or other business need. Note that if you're looking for a sample reference for a personal letter, you should not use the sample included above but instead, use the template provided below and make modifications to each section as described.

free reference letter template

Reference Template

Download this reference letter template. Can be imported as a Google Doc. Instant download. No email required. Free letter.

Download Template

Reference Letter Resources

Letter Resources

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


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