Writing a Job Reference

Where to start, what to say?

By Tommy Norris 7/20/2021

Writing a job reference doesn’t have to be challenging. Many of us have been asked to provide a reference and then we draw a blank. What do I say? Where do I start? Is it going to be done by phone or do I need to write a letter?

Just break it down into a few key elements and you can provide a comprehensive reference for anyone whether by phone or in writing. There are 4 key elements in a job reference. Your contact information and preferences, how you’re connected, requestor’s strengths, and why you enjoyed working with them.

Contact information and contact preference is important. You need to let the individual calling or checking the reference know who you are and how you prefer to communicate. For contact information it can be as simple as your first and last name. If you’re comfortable then also provide your mailing address or perhaps simply your city and state for location information. Contact preference is equally important. State your communication preference (email or phone) and the best time to reach you.

Next is how you and the job candidate are connected. There’s no need to over complicate this. A company name, organization, or simply stating you’re a friend is acceptable. In addition to how you were connected make sure to specify how long you’ve know the candidate. References do not need to be only long term coworker relationships. You can be a reference for someone if you’ve interacted with them during a sales transaction or other interaction.

You’ve provided your contact information and how you know the candidate. Now pick 2 to 3 strengths and speak to those. Are they very analytical, do they have high emotional IQ, or are they just a really hard worker? State the characteristic and provide a single sentence or two supporting this.

Last, end the reference with what you enjoyed most about the person. This is where you can provide a more personal touch to the reference. You can speak to a trait or better yet, provide a very short description of an interaction you had.

Most importantly! Do not over think providing a reference. You are being asked for your opinion by someone that expects to hear honest feedback on the candidate.

For a sample reference letter click here: