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How to make a Reference letter

A reference letter, or letter of recommendation, is a positive endorsement that outlines someone’s work experience, skills, expertise, personal qualities, and/or academic performance.

You do not have to give a work reference letter, but if you do, it must be fair, accurate and appropriate. Use this professional recommendation letter when you seek to write a reference about a current or former employee. This employment reference letter covers situations where a current employee has applied for a new position, or left your employ and been offered a new job.

This document is GDPR compliant.

Use this reference letter:

  • when you are writing a reference about a current employee
  • when you are writing a reference about a former employee
  • only for employees based in England, Wales or Scotland

Find out more about what to do when an employee leaves.

This reference letter covers:

  • the employee's potential/new role
  • the employer's policy on giving references
  • the requirement that the reference be given in confidence and good faith
  • information about the employee's performance, abilities, attendance, disciplinary record, character and suitability (if relevant)

An employer does not have to give a reference by law unless it’s:

  • in writing that the employer will provide one (eg in a contract of employment), or

  • for certain financial services jobs regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) or Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) – usually for jobs known as 'controlled functions' (you can find out more about controlled functions on the FCA website.

When you write a recommendation letter you should:

  • be accurate and fair
  • decide the length of the letter, references can be short or long (basic reference or detailed reference)
  • not be misleading or include irrelevant personal information
  • justify any opinions given with evidence eg if an employee has a poor performance warning against their record, then the reference should not say that the employee performed well in the job
  • focus on how the employee’s skills match the job description 

  • provide contact information if further detailed information is needed

For more information, read Employee reference letters.

  • Professional reference letter, which is usually needed when starting a new job and is usually written by the employee’s employer (eg their line manager).
  • Academic reference letter, which is usually needed during the university admissions process and some employees require one (eg for a graduate scheme).
  • Character/ personal reference letter, which is about an employee as a person and includes information about their work ethic and personality. It should be written by someone that knows the person well (eg a mentor).

This document in particular should be used for a professional reference.

Ask a lawyer if your employee:

  • has any criminal convictions
  • is based outside of England, Wales or Scotland

Other names for Reference letter

Employer reference letter, Reference letter, Recommendation letter, Reference letter template, Letter of recommendation, Writing a reference, Job references, Recommendation letter, How to write a reference.