How to Write A Professional Reference Letter (With Samples and Writing Tips)

By Abby McCain
Aug. 14, 2022

Find a Job You Really Want In

Being asked to write a reference letter for someone can be both an honor and a challenge. When someone asks you to do this, whether it’s an old student, coworker, or employee, you’ll probably have an idea of what you want to say, but it can be difficult to know how to say it professionally.

In this article, you’ll learn how to structure a clear, professional recommendation letter so that you can help the person you’re recommending look their best.

Key Takeaways:

  • When writing a reference letter it is important to have a professional introduction, what your relationship is to the candidate, and enough examples proving the candidates ability to do the job.

  • Keep the letter positive and don’t lie to make the candidate seem like a better option than they are.

  • It’s important to stick to the submission instructions to make sure you are providing enough information for their potential employer.

Professional Reference Letter Samples and Writing Tips

How to Write a Professional Reference Letter

Your professional reference letter should be formatted with the following elements in mind:

  1. A header (physical copy only). Just like with any professional letter, if you’re planning to type and print out the recommendation letter, you’ll want to put your name, title, address, email address, and phone number at the top of the page (if it isn’t already included in your letterhead).

    Then, you’ll need to add the date you’re sending the letter, followed by the recipient’s name, title, company name, and address. If you’re just sending an email, you can leave the whole header out and just include your contact information beneath your signature.

  2. A professional introduction. After your professional salutation, you’ll want to get right to the point and explain who you’re writing about and how long you’ve worked with the person you’re writing on behalf of. The reader should immediately understand your relationship with the applicant.

  3. Identify the applicant’s strengths. Talk about specific skills and strengths they have, as well as how they used those for your organization. Make sure to mention that you enjoyed working with the person, and then clearly state that you are recommending them for the position.

  4. Provide examples. The more details you can provide about the candidate’s specific on-the-job qualities, the better. Think of one or two stories where the applicant went above and beyond or leveraged one of their most valuable skills to great effect.

    If you can, quantify the applicant’s impact — hiring managers and recruiters love numbers, as they translate well across companies and speak directly to results.

  5. Closing lines. Near the end of your letter, reiterate that the applicant has your complete support and that you can recommend them with no reservations. Offer to answer any more questions if the recipient has them, and then sign off with your typed name and handwritten signature if you’re printing the letter.

  6. Contact information (email copy only). If you’re sending your reference letter as an email, put your contact information after your sign-off and name. Include things like your phone number, alternate email addresses, and a LinkedIn page.

Reference Letter Template and Samples

  1. Reference letter template:

    To Whom It May Concern:

    I am writing to wholeheartedly recommend [Applicant’s Full Name] for the [job title] position at [company name].

    My name is [Your Name], and I’m a [job title] at [your company name]. I’ve been working the [field/industry] industry for [number] of years. stands out as a cut above the rest.

    [Applicant’s First Name] and I worked together at [company name], and during our time together, [he/she/they] showed a remarkable talent for [skill 1] and [skill 2]. I was always impressed with [Applicant’s First Name] [soft skill] and ability to [key qualification/trait].

    One particular moment that stands out to me was when [Applicant’s First Name] [personal story of a shared experience where the applicant really impressed you or displayed incredible aptitude].

    While I value [Applicant’s First Name]’s technical abilities, [he/she/they] stood out as so much more than a technocrat. [Applicant’s First Name] always displayed a [adjective] attitude and was a real pleasure to work with thanks to [his/her/their] [soft skill1 1] and [soft skill 2].

    I’m pleased to recommend [Applicant’s First Name] with no reservations whatsoever. [He/She/They] would make an excellent addition to your [department name] team at [company name].

    If you have any more questions about [Applicant’s First Name], please feel free to contact me at [contact information].


    [Your Name]
    [Company Name]
    [Job Title]
    [Additional Contact Info]
    [LinkedIn (optional)]

  2. Example printed reference letter:

    Sarah Smith
    Department Director
    Company, LLC
    1212 Main Street
    New York City, NY 32323

    February 20, 2020

    Dan Thomas
    Business, Inc.
    3535 3rd Street
    Boston, MA 02134

    Dear Dan,

    I have had the pleasure of working with Rachel Williams at Company, LLC for the past four years. During this time, I’ve watched her be both attentive to detail and focused on reaching big-picture goals. She is teachable, innovative, and brought organization and excellence to her role here.

    Rachel used her communication and organizational skills to help her team of employees complete projects quickly without sacrificing quality. She is enjoyable to work with, as she brings a positive attitude to every situation, is a good problem-solver, and works hard to make sure her job gets done well.

    Rachel would be a great asset to have at any organization, and I give her my highest recommendation.

    Please let me know if you have any additional questions.


  3. Example email reference letter:

    Subject Line: Recommendation for Shaun Johnson

    Dear Marjorie,

    I’m writing to recommend Shaun Johnson. I’ve worked with him closely for two years at Marketing, Inc., and I have enjoyed having him on my team. Shaun is a bright employee who isn’t afraid to take on new tasks and implement new ideas to better the organization. He is teachable, asks for help when he needs it, and takes constructive criticism well.

    One highlight of his time here was when he designed and ran a highly successful digital marketing campaign that exceeded our projected results at less than the budgeted cost. His intense research and hard work made this happen.

    Shaun is a positive person to be around and a great team player, willing to help however he can around the office. He would be a valuable addition to any organization, and I believe that his skill set would fit very well into this new opportunity.

    Please let me know if you have any questions or need any additional information.


    James Kyle

    James Kyle
    Director of Marketing
    Marketing, Inc.

Tips for Writing a Professional Reference Letter

  1. Include soft and hard skills in your recommendation. While it’s important to highlight the person’s ability to perform the tasks that come with their specific job, it’s also a good idea to communicate the personality traits and soft skills that make them great to work with.

    Are they a great team player and a self-starter? Mention that, because it can be difficult for employers to get a full picture of those qualities from just an application and interview.

  2. Provide specific examples. While giving general compliments is helpful, try to provide one or two specific success stories in your letter. This will give more weight to your recommendation and helps employers truly see the qualifications of the applicant.

    You don’t have to provide all the details about the project, but telling about how the employee led their team to the most productive quarter the team had ever seen paints a better picture than just saying that they have good leadership skills.

  3. Highlight skills that match those listed on the job description. Just as it’s important to match a resume to a job description, it’s also a good idea to highlight some of the specific skills that an employer is looking for in a recommendation letter.

    If you can, ask the employee you’re writing for to give you a copy of the job description they’re applying for. This way you can speak to the traits that qualify them for the specific position in your recommendation, rather than just giving vague praise.

  4. Ask for their resume. Whether you currently work with the person you’re writing a recommendation for or not, it can be difficult to come up with specific examples of their accomplishments on the fly.

    Save yourself some work by asking for a copy of their resume before you start writing. This will serve as a reference to work from as you write, as well as to have on hand after you submit the letter in case the interviewer calls you for more information about the applicant.

  5. Try to provide a neutral or positive review, but don’t lie. If you’re asked to provide a review and don’t feel like you have enough positive things to say about the person, it’s more beneficial to both you and the recipient to politely decline writing the letter.

    If you don’t know the person very well either way, this also might be a good reason to turn down the request. Employers will be able to tell if you’re being insincere, which can hurt the applicant’s chances more than if you hadn’t written the letter.

  6. Send it as a PDF if you aren’t sending the letter directly to the employer. Sometimes an employee may ask for a generic letter of recommendation to have on hand to submit with multiple job applications.

    When you write a letter like this, you can leave off the recipient’s contact information and say, “To Whom It May Concern,” and then save it as a PDF. Sending it in this form will help the applicant’s future employers trust that they didn’t write it themselves, since you aren’t the one sending it to them.

  7. If they write their own recommendation, make sure you read it and agree with it before you sign your name. Sometimes employees will write their own recommendation letter for you to adjust as you want and sign your name to.

    This is to save you time and effort in remembering their accomplishments, and it can be very helpful. Just make sure you thoroughly read it and agree with it before you sign it, though.

  8. Be timely. It’s important to make sure you turn in the letter on time, as the person’s job application might rely on it. Ask for a deadline if you aren’t given one, and then make sure you’ll be able to meet it. If you can’t, give them as much notice as possible so that they have a chance to find someone else to write it for them.

  9. Follow submission instructions. Make sure you follow any formatting and submission requirements as closely as possible. If they aren’t given to you, ask. It will reflect poorly on the person you’re recommending if you don’t follow the instructions they were given.

  10. Proofread thoroughly. Make sure you check and recheck your letter before you submit it. Not only is being grammatically correct a reflection on you as an individual, but also on your reliability as a recommender.

    Save yourself some embarrassment and keep your letter strong by giving it an extra once-over before you send it in, and remember that the most important thing is to give a polished, positive picture of the person you’re recommending, whether you’re an eloquent writer or not.

Professional Reference Letter FAQ

  1. What is a professional reference letter reference letter?

    A professional reference letter is a document that a job candidate can use to support the claims made in other job application materials, like their resume and cover letter. These types of reference letters are different than personal or character references.

    You can only write a professional reference letter for someone who you’ve worked with closely in a professional setting. Before you even begin planning what you’re going to put in a reference letter, take a minute to remind yourself who your audience is and why you’re writing it. This letter isn’t a heartfelt note for a birthday card or a biography of the person.

    It’s a one-page, professional document intended to fill in the gaps for the person’s potential employer. You are their ticket to truly understanding what it’s like to work with the individual you’re recommending.

  2. Who can write a professional reference letter?

    Before you agree to write a professional reference letter for someone, take some time to consider whether you can provide a compelling and personalized account of your relationship and experiences with the applicant. You should only write a professional reference letter for someone if one or more of the following situations applies:

    • You’ve worked closely alongside or supervised the applicant, or the applicant supervised you

    • You have plenty of experience (and therefore examples) of the applicant’s work style and impact on results

    • You’re aware of the applicant’s relevant strengths and qualifications that they hope to highlight

    • You can speak positively about the applicant without lying

    At the end of the day, if you can’t provide a reference letter that helps the candidate land the job, it’s in everyone’s best interest to decline the applicant’s request. Just be sure to tell this individual right away once you decide that you can or cannot write the letter, because drafting a list of professional references is sometimes a time-sensitive matter.

  3. How many reference will most employers look for?

    You should provide at least three references for your potential employer. When selecting your references make sure you talk to the ahead of time and that they are okay with providing a reference.

    Your references should be someone who can confirm your work performance so it’s important to keep them up to date.

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Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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