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How To Write a Reference Letter (With Samples and Tips)

Reference Letter

In addition to the certificates, curriculum vitae, and cover letter, references are sometimes required in an application for different types of opportunities. They complete the picture of the applicant and can help decision makers select the best fit candidates. 

We have seen references becoming more and more common, especially in job applications. But what does a reference actually entail?

What does reference mean?

In general, a reference refers to the act of mentioning or alluding to something, whether in speech or in writing. 

This term is commonly used in various scientific fields. In employment law, it is primarily understood as the letter of recommendation, which is sometimes required to complete a job application. 

It is essentially a positive endorsement of a candidate’s skills and attributes, which explains that they are qualified for an opportunity. It is usually written by someone familiar with the candidate’s experience and accomplishments, such as a former employer. 

Letter of Recommendation vs. Reference Letter

The terms letter of recommendation and letter of reference are often used as synonyms but are not exactly the same:

  • Letters of recommendation are addressed to a specific recipient and are catered to the requirements of a unique opportunity. They are especially popular for applying to a job vacancy, but are also often used for promotions, doctorates, scholarships, degree programs, semesters abroad, or internships.
  • In comparison, a reference letter is not written for a specific recipient and not directed to a specific opportunity. It is a general commendation of a person’s character and skills, and it serves to verify certain facts about you and your predictive performance. 

Structure of Reference Letter

In order to write a meaningful reference letter, there is some general information that should be included in the letter, and this includes:

  • Details of the author of the reference letter
  • Explanation of author’s relationship with the candidate
  • How long the author has known the candidate
  • Add positive attributes and qualities with examples
  • Performance and evaluation of specific activities completed
  • Illumination of team behavior
  • Statement of recommendation
  • Wishes for the future


There are some other items that are also worth remembering in making a complete and powerful reference letter, such as:

  1. Letterhead of the issuer of the reference.
  2. A direct telephone number or email for possible inquiries.
  3. Name and address of the addressee: This applies to a specific recommendation in which a future employer is already known.
  4. Subject with mention of the applicant by name.
  5. Short self-introduction of the author of the reference.
  6. A brief note on the reason for issuing the letter of recommendation or the letter of reference.
  7. Objective recommendation based on experience with the candidate. The name and the period of work should be indicated. A reference to hierarchical relationships is also possible.
  8. Qualifications achieved by the candidate. These can be degrees, but also special certificates and further training that fall within the period.
  9. Candidate’s achievements. Successes or qualifications can also be included in the CV (“experience with …”).
  10. A subjective recommendation. This is about the applicant’s characteristics and soft skills that may make the applicant particularly suitable for the opportunity
  11. Date and signature

Important Details Regarding Reference Letter

References are issued or written on request. Only the one who can recommend you and want to do so will write you a reference. Nevertheless, you should still pay attention to who you ask to create a letter of reference, as this will be used to verify your personality and abilities.

A poorly reputed reviewer or an advocate who does not have the professional experience to judge you is not a good choice. It should be written by someone who is reputable and familiar with your experience. 

It should always be taken seriously as it can determine the outcome of your application. Hackneyed phrases or exaggerated praises can be of little help and can distort the image of the applicant.

A letter of recommendation or a letter of reference should not exceed one A4 page. In addition, make sure to only submit a number of letters that are required by the application. A large number of different letters of recommendation can seem arbitrary.

  • Length: Maximum one A4 page
  • Opportunities: Job application, promotion, doctorate, scholarship, study, semester abroad, internship
  • Reference provider: teacher, professor, trainer, former supervisor
  • Content: Own opinion on qualifications and way of working, usually more general than a letter of recommendation
  • POV: From the point of view of the reference provider and based on experience with the candidate
  • Position: Directly behind the CV

Sample Reference Letter – 1

“Name of the Reference Provider

Address Postal Code 

Place of Residence 

Telephone Number

TT.MM.YYYY

Reference letter for _____

After many years of excellent work in our company, Mr. / Mrs. _____ has decided to look for new professional challenges. A step that I, as his previous boss, on the one hand, very much regret but can still warmly recommend to Mr. / Mrs. ___.

In the time of TT.MM.YYYY to DD.MM.YYYY Mr./Mrs. _____ has worked for me in the position of ___ and has always completed his tasks to my complete satisfaction and with great enthusiasm and commitment. I got to know and appreciate him/her as an independent, responsible, and reliable colleague.

Mr./Mrs. _____ also holds an excellent reputation among his colleagues and customers.

In addition to the impeccable professional qualifications, Mr. / Mrs. _____ is characterized by optimism, friendliness, and a high ability to work in a team. I consider him/her to be ideally suited for a position as ___ and recommend him/her for employment in this field at any time.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me by email at _____ or phone at _____.

Sincerely,

Signature + Name”

Sample Reference Letter – 2

“Name of the Creator

Address of the Creator

Name of the Recipient

Address of the Recipient

Place and date

Reference Letter for [Applicant’s Name]

Dear Ms / Mr xyz,

Ms / Mr […] worked for […] for more than […] months / years. During this time we have seen her / him as a reliable and committed employee in our team. We therefore very much regret that Ms / Mr […] has now decided to take on new professional challenges.

From […] to […] […] Ms / Mr […] was employed in our company as […]. In doing so, he / she was able to demonstrate his / her expertise in […], […] and […]. In addition to his / her professional skills, Ms / Mr […] is particularly characterized by […] and […]. Which is why I consider him / her to be ideally suited for the position as […] at […] and therefore recommend working with you.

Kind regards,

Signature + Name of the Creator”

Sample Reference Letter – 3

“Dear [Insert Name],

I am writing to recommend [Employee Name]. [He/She/They] worked with us at [Company Name] as a [Employee Job Title] and [Reported to me/ worked with me] in my position as [Insert Your Job Title].

As an employee, [Employee Name] was always [Insert Quality]. During [His/Her/Their] time in my team, [He/She/They] managed to [Insert Example].

I’ve always put a premium on [Insert quality] among my team members and [Employee Name] never failed to deliver. An example was when [Insert Example].

[Employee Name] is a delight to work with and I wouldn’t hesitate to hire [Him/Her/Them] again.

Should you have any further questions about [Him/Her/Them], feel free to reach me at [Phone Number].

Thanks,

[Your name and signature]”

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Shortlyst Team

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