How to Write a Reference Letter for a Job [+ Free Template]

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

A character reference letter should not get confused with a reference letter for a job (a professional reference letter). A character reference letter will 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 describe the person's characteristics (the person’s character). And provide the reader with insights and information regarding your recommendation about their character. For example, listing experiences 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. 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, you may have the other party asking for a reference. For example, in a hiring situation, the employer may want a reference by the applicant 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 shows that the employee is a high-quality candidate versus requesting to validate specific parts of the employee's 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. It should be in a positive, professional, and respectful manner.

This letter can be written for the following reasons:

  • Providing a character reference as part of any personal need.
  • When providing a character reference or academic reference for a student application (medical school, law school, graduate school, MBA program, or other college applications).
  • Or when providing a professional reference for an employer who needs validation of the employee’s previous work history, skills, or resume statements.

As the letter writer, you’ll need to be sure that the request you’ve received contains the appropriate information. Information used to be able to make a valid reference. For example, a job reference should include details regarding what the employer is looking to validate. So the recommender can speak to situations and examples that 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 write a successful letter.

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

  • Resume
  • Cover Letter
  • Job Description
  • Hiring Manager Notes
  • School Scholarship Information
  • Academic Committee Requirements
  • Academic Achievements

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

How to Write a 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 reader's full name.

First paragraph: Within the first paragraph of your reference letter, you should speak to the person you are referencing. And why you are recommending them (the reason for the letter). And 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. These would be special moments that signify important events 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. And telling the reader if they have any further questions to contact you. And close the letter with a formal goodbye.

Reference Letter Document Format Tips

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

  • Use 9-point to 11-point font.
  • Try to use a font such as Garamond, Times New Roman, or Calibri.
  • Use the default margins set by Google Docs or Microsoft Word.
  • Use no more than 1.5" line spacing.
  • Include your contact information and relevant links to your work or professional history.
  • Keep your reference letter a single page.
  • Write no more than 600 words.

Sample Letter

Below is a sample employment reference letter for a prospective employer. This specific example is 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: If you're looking for a sample reference for a personal letter, you should not use the sample included above. 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

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author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), NCDA Certified Career Counselor (CCC), and general career expert. Patrick has completed the NACE Coaching Certification Program (CCP). And has been published as a career expert on Forbes, Glassdoor, American Express, Reader's Digest, LiveCareer, Zety, Yahoo, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, SHRM.org, Process.st, FairyGodBoss, HRCI.org, St. Edwards University, NC State University, IBTimes.com, Thrive Global, TMCnet.com, Work It Daily, Workology, Career Guide, MyPerfectResume, College Career Life, The HR Digest, WorkWise, Career Cast, Elite Staffing, Women in HR, All About Careers, Upstart HR, The Street, Monster, The Ladders, Introvert Whisperer, and many more. Find him on LinkedIn.

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