4 Letter of Recommendation for Employee Templates & Samples [Free Downloads]

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4 Letter of Recommendation for Employee Templates & Samples [Free Downloads]

A letter of recommendation for employees is a powerful tool that showcases a professional’s strengths, character, and accomplishments, enabling potential employers to make informed decisions based on a credible endorsement. By understanding the value of a compelling letter of recommendation, HR professionals play an essential role in shaping the future of the workforce and driving their own organizational growth.

What is a letter of recommendation for an employee?
Types of employee letters of recommendation
How to use letter of recommendation templates
1. Character reference letters
2. Professional letter of recommendation
3. Recommendation letter for promotion
4. Simple letter of recommendation 
How to write an effective letter of recommendation for employees
Legal considerations when providing a reference letter

As an HR professional, you have most likely read and filed hundreds (or even thousands) of letters of recommendation for employees over the years. This formal document that is used to demonstrate a candidate’s desirable qualities and skills is an invaluable tool for an employer who is checking whether an individual suits their organizational culture and can deliver the necessary job requirements.

What is a letter of recommendation for an employee?

A letter of recommendation, or reference letter, is a document that a former employee might request when they are applying for a new job. A potential employer may also contact a candidate’s former employer and request a recommendation letter to get another perspective on their work ethic, habits and proven performance.

Why HR may be asked to provide employee letters of recommendation

As an HR professional, you may be asked to write a letter of recommendation because you can connect with different managers and colleagues across the organization to gain a full picture of a former employee.

You may also be asked to provide managers or supervisors with guidance around the different types of reference letters and what should be included in them in order to communicate effectively on the individual’s behalf.

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If you can write a positive recommendation for a former employee because they added value to your organization and displayed the skills and values you admire, it’s always a good idea to take the opportunity to help them out:

  • If the employee is worth a glowing reference letter, there is a strong likelihood your organization may want to hire them back in the future. Providing a great letter of recommendation ensures you maintain a strong relationship with them.
  • Similarly, excellent employees tend to associate and network with individuals similar to themselves – individuals you want them to speak highly to about your employer brand.
  • Finally, you can write a reference letter (or ask an employee’s manager to do so) as part of the offboarding process when they leave. This will not only give the employee a good offboarding experience, but it will build your employer branding.

Types of employee letters of recommendation

Most letters of recommendation have similar elements. They include:

  • The role the employee held
  • The duration of employment
  • Key responsibilities within their role
  • Specific attributes or notable skills
  • Your contact information, in case a follow-up is required.

In this guide, we have provided templates for four different types of letters of recommendation:

  1. Character reference letter
  2. Professional reference letter
  3. Reference letter for promotion
  4. Simple reference letter

In each instance, we have outlined when you would use this specific template and provided a free download that you can adapt for your own organization.

How to use letter of recommendation templates

A template can be a handy timesaver that can also ensure you deliver a valuable document to a former employee. However, a great reference letter is only as good as the details it contains. To write a great letter of recommendation, keep the following top of mind while you work through the templates:

  • Flesh it out. Always give context to each of your examples. This will make the candidate leap from the paper.
  • Be flexible. Templates are a guide – they are not set in stone. Use what works for your business and the former employees themselves.
  • Be honest. Not only do you have your own brand to protect, but you won’t be doing a candidate any long-term favors if you over-embellish their skills.
  • Be targeted. If you know which business or position a former employee is applying for, reference it, as well as why their experience and skills could add value to the role or company (and again, give examples).

1. Character reference letters

A character letter of recommendation, also known as a personal letter of recommendation, confirms an individual’s character, values, and personal qualities. Character reference letters are usually written by personal acquaintances, such as friends or family members, while normal or professional reference letters are written by professional contacts, such as former employers, managers or HR professionals.

In addition, professional reference letters are generally used when applying for a job, whereas character reference letters may be required for personal or legal matters, such as court hearings, visa applications or emigration processes, or adoption procedures.

How to write a good character reference letter

  • Say who you are. This is personal, so show your connection and why you value the person you are writing about.
  • Be personal. Discuss personal attributes, ethics and values and offer examples. 
  • Address the reason for the letter. Character letters are required for very specific purposes, so make sure you reference why the letter is needed and why the reader should care about the letter’s subject.

2. Professional letter of recommendation

A standard letter of recommendation, often referred to as a professional or employment reference letter, provides an assessment of a person’s work-related qualifications, skills, performance and accomplishments.

It is generally written by a professional contact, such as a colleague, manager or HR professional who has experienced the individual in a work setting. It is typically used when an individual is applying for a job and should provide an endorsement of their abilities.

How to write a good professional reference letter 

  • Be professional. This goes without saying, but it is worth repeating. Use formal titles and professional language and remember that you are representing yourself and the company you work for.
  • Introduce yourself and your relationship with the candidate. It’s important the reader knows who you are, your role and in what capacity you know the candidate. Be brief but ensure you give your reader the key details they need.
  • Focus on relevant skills and achievements. What skills and accomplishments are relevant to the position or opportunity the individual is seeking? Use specific examples to illustrate their strengths and how they have contributed to projects or tasks.
  • Be specific and include anecdotes. The more detailed, the better. Stating an attribute or skill will never be as powerful as showing how that skill added value in a real-world work example. This adds credibility to your recommendation and gives the recipient a better understanding of the candidate’s values and abilities.
  • Keep it concise and focused. A good letter of recommendation should typically be no more than one page, two at most. Stick to the most important and relevant points to keep the recipient’s attention, even though you are adding details.
  • Emphasize the candidate’s potential. By highlighting the candidate’s potential for growth and success in the new position you are demonstrating your confidence in their ability to adapt and excel in different situations.
Professional Letter of Recommendation Sample

3. Recommendation letter for promotion

A recommendation letter for promotion is a written internal endorsement provided by a supervisor, manager, or colleague that supports an employee’s candidacy for a promotion within the business. It could be a manager who is recommending the promotion or a department or leadership team who has identified the individual as a potential candidate and requested the letter.

The primary difference between a recommendation letter for promotion and a general letter of recommendation is the context. A promotion recommendation letter specifically focuses on the employee’s contributions within the organization, their readiness for increased responsibilities, and how they have demonstrated their potential to excel in a more advanced role.

How to write a good recommendation letter for promotion

  • Highlight accomplishments and successes. Your reader understands the role’s needs and the organization, so quantify contributions where possible, including where efficiencies improved or revenue increased.
  • Discuss professional growth and development. Promotions are usually offered to individuals whose skill sets are growing and who have ambitions to accomplish more or offer more to the business and its customers. Highlighting the employee’s commitment to professional growth and development will show they are ready to take on a new role and will keep developing within the new position.
  • Address the potential for success. Provide examples of the employee’s adaptability, resilience, and ability to handle increased responsibilities to show that they will succeed in this particular role.

4. Simple letter of recommendation 

A simple letter of recommendation can be used for a number of reasons. The first is simply because a professional letter of recommendation is not required because the context is far more informal than a job application. Simple letters are more suitable for informal settings, such as a recommendation for a volunteer opportunity or club membership.

However, within a professional setting, a simple letter is used to confirm the employment details of an individual without providing an assessment of their performance or abilities. This could be because details have not been requested or are not required – the employer only wants confirmation that the candidate worked at an organization in a specific role and for a verifiable salary.

Another reason for a simple letter is if an HR professional has been asked to supply a letter of reference but because the person’s performance was poor, they do not wish to endorse the candidate’s values or abilities. In these cases, it is best to focus only on factual details.

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How to write a good simple letter of recommendation

  • Stick to the facts. Include the former employee’s job title, the period they worked for the organization, and their key responsibilities.
  • Do not editorialize. Avoid making any judgments or assessments about their performance, as doing so might negatively impact their chances in future opportunities or lead to legal action if an individual believes they have been unfairly portrayed, potentially causing damage to their reputation or career prospects. 

How to write an effective letter of recommendation for employees

If you are interested in helping a former employee stand out from the crowd, here are 6 steps to writing a powerful letter of recommendation.

1. Use a professional format

Unless you are writing a character letter of recommendation, use a professional format that includes your contact information, the date and the recipient’s address, name and job title (if you know them). If the letter is written in anticipation of a job application, your details and the former employee’s details are enough.

Keep your language professional and informative, avoid jargon or slang and use a professional font, such as Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman, that is easy to read. Remember, your goal is to offer a positive impression of the candidate, and a professional, easy-to-read letter will go a long way toward achieving just that.

2. Explain why you’re qualified to write the letter

Even though the letter of recommendation is not about you, in a crucial way your credibility lays the foundation for the candidate’s credibility. Help the recipient understand who you are, your relationship with the candidate and why you are offering this reference letter.

3. Describe the candidate’s skills, work habits and accomplishments

Think of this as the ‘meat’ of the letter of recommendation. This is the content the recipient is really interested in. The details you include will help the reader gauge whether the employee suits the role and the organization’s culture.

4. Use specific examples

Success lies in the details. Anecdotes will not only show that you had a professional relationship with the candidate, but they are an excellent and memorable way to illustrate the candidate’s skills and qualities. This can also help add validity to any details or information the former employee might have already shared with a potential employer.

5. Conclude the letter with a formal closing

End your letter by restating your confidence that the candidate will add value to future employers and in their new role. Offer contact details and invite the recipient to contact you for further information. Finally, close off with a salutation and add your name and title at the end of the letter.

6. Proofread your document

This is an essential step. A document filled with errors (or with only a few typos) looks extremely unprofessional and will damage your professionalism and the credibility of the former employee you are trying to help.

Conversely, an error-frame document with the correct format and spelling shows you care about the individual you’re writing the letter for and that you pay attention to details.

Letter of Recommendation for Employee Checklist

A letter of recommendation is essentially weighing in on an individual’s character, values, skills and work ethic. There are several legal considerations to keep in mind to ensure that the process is fair, and compliant, and does not expose the organization or the writer to potential liabilities.

As an HR professional, it is within your mandate to be aware of these considerations and to take appropriate measures to minimize risks.

These risks include:

  1. Defamation. Defamation occurs when someone makes If an individual believes you have made a false statement that damages their reputation, they could sue for defamation.
  2. Discrimination. Most countries have laws protecting individuals from discrimination in the workplace. This includes being treated unfairly based on certain characteristics, such as gender, race, age, religion, or disability.

Avoid any discriminatory remarks or biases that could lead to unequal treatment. Instead, focus on the employee’s job-related skills, abilities, and accomplishments. Any personal characteristics should be directly related to the work an individual did, and not their gender, ethnicity or any other personal attributes.

  • Educate managers and supervisors on the legal implications of providing letters of recommendation, including the risks of defamation and discrimination.
  • Develop clear guidelines and policies for writing letters of recommendation within the organization. Address potential legal risks and provide guidance on how to write fair, accurate, and legally compliant letters.
  • Encourage a culture of open communication between HR and managers and let managers know that as an HR professional, you can provide templates and review drafts of letters of recommendation.
  • Speak to your legal department and draft recommendation letters that involve sensitive information or potential legal risks.

How to handle difficult situations:

if you don’t feel that you can honestly and positively endorse a person for a position, or if your company has a policy that prohibits providing references, it is far better to politely turn down a request for a letter of recommendation.

It is better not to write a reference letter at all than to write one that expresses anything less than full confidence in the employee. Similarly, you do not want to be untruthful – it will come out and could damage your employer brand. Remember, you are never obligated to give someone a reference.

If you are concerned about offending an individual because you cannot give them a letter of recommendation, you can politely and diplomatically decline the request in the following ways:

  1. If you do not know the person well: “I’m sorry, but I do not feel I have worked with you long enough or know you well enough to provide you with an accurate and thorough recommendation.”
  2. If you do know the person well: “Thank you for asking me to write you a letter of recommendation. I do not feel I am the best person to write you a recommendation, but perhaps you can ask [name someone who may feel more comfortable.]
  3. If there was a performance issue: “I appreciate your request for a reference letter, however, due to some performance concerns while you were employed with [company name], I do not believe we are best placed to provide you with one. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.”
  4. If your company does not allow letters of recommendation: “Unfortunately, we have a policy preventing letters of recommendation. However, I can supply a simple reference letter that confirms your employment history and responsibilities, and I will include that it is our policy not to provide letters of recommendation.”
  5. If the request was for confidential information: “Thank you for your request. reaching out regarding [former employee’s name]. I am able to confirm that [former employee’s name] worked at [company name] from [start date] to [end date] and the position they held at our company. However, due to our company policy and confidentiality requirements, I am unable to disclose any sensitive information. Please let me know if you have any other non-confidential inquiries.

Key takeaways

  • Building a culture that supports writing positive letters of recommendation for great employees is a powerful tool for a number of reasons. Within the organization, it shows employees that their managers and HR are paying attention to how they work and the value they bring to the business.
  • For former employees, they are a way to maintain relationships, build your employer brand and encourage past employees to speak highly of your company.
  • Using the templates we have provided, you can build a useful reference letter library and train managers and supervisors how to write excellent and powerful letters of recommendation.
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