HR Glossary  /  Recruitment and Hiring  /  Reference letter

Reference letter

 What is a reference letter?

A reference letter (also known as a letter of reference or letter of recommendation) confirms a previous or current employee’s employment (including dates) at the organization, their role, their responsibilities, what they accomplished, and whether the sender would recommend them for employment.  

Who should provide a reference letter? 

Professional reference letters are generally provided by an employee’s current or former supervisor. Although a reference letter may be provided by a human resources representative or a peer, most employers prefer and sometimes require references to be from a candidate’s former or current direct supervisor, or a higher-level manager at the organization.  

What should a reference letter include? 

A reference letter should include a few key things, such as the employee’s full name, their title, and their dates of employment. Give a brief description of what your organization does and what the employee is or was responsible for in their role, and don’t forget to recommend the employee. You can include any special achievements the employee had during their tenure, or keep it brief, using a standard template. Close the letter by including your name, title, and contact information. 

As an HRdownloads’ member, you can download a free reference letter template from our library. 

Should I ask a candidate to provide a reference letter in the hiring process? 

If you’re currently in the recruitment process, you might be wondering whether you should request a reference letter from your top candidates. Reviewing reference letters can be a quick and efficient way to gather additional details about a candidate. These details may help you make the final decision about which of your preferred candidates you want to hire. However, you might want to consider whether you need a letter at all. Sometimes, a quick phone call with a candidate’s reference provides the answers you’re looking for and allows for follow-up questions in case anything is unclear. We recommend thinking about what information you’re hoping to learn from a reference and then considering what the best method is to collect this information. 

HR is more manageable with HRdownloads!

Get one HR tool