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Susan M. Heathfield

Tips for Reference Letters

By December 10, 2013

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On occasion, an employee or a former employee will ask you to write a reference letter to help improve their job searching success. If it's an employee that you valued, you'll want to help him or her out by writing a reference letter.

Here are a couple of tips about writing reference letters. More reference letter writing tips.

  • Check with your Human Resources department to see what the company policy is about written references. They may be forbidden and your company policy may require that you send all such requests to HR.

  • If reference letters are okay, determine whether you can write an honest, helpful reference letter. For a good employee, it's easy; for a so-so employee, the words become more difficult. If the employee was an underperforming, not-very-successful employee, I'd pass on the opportunity. Tell the individual that you don't feel that you can write a helpful reference letter.

  • Because reference letters live forever and develop a life of their own (which is one of the reasons that I don't like them and I'd really rather talk to former supervisors), carefully date them. They will be photocopied for years. I've had applicants give me reference letters that are 20 years old (a practice that I also don't recommend).

  • In your reference letter, speak truthfully, give examples, and where possible, provide numeric or verbal descriptions of the employee's achievements.

  • Use these sample reference letters as a guide when you write your own. Here's my newest sample reference letter for an employee that you hated to lose. This new reference letter is for a marketing generalist.

More Sample Reference Letters

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