top of page
Search

How to Write an A+ Work Reference Letter (with Scripts)


A woman showing how to write a reference letter for someone at work

Did you recently get asked to write a recommendation letter for an employee or coworker, but you’re not totally sure where to start?

 

Don’t worry!

 

In this article, I’ll show you everything you need to know to write an A+ reference letter. Plus, I’ll give you some sample outlines to make your job even easier.

 

Tips to Write a Good Reference Letter

 

Before diving into the format, here are some crucial tips to keep in mind to make your letter as good as possible.

 

  • This is a marketing document. You’re not writing a biography or a wedding speech. This is a marketing document to help them land the role they’re seeking.

  • Keep the tone positive. You don’t have to feel 100% positive toward this person. But this letter is not the place to air grievances. This is a time to speak to their strengths.

  • Don’t lie or overexaggerate. At the same time, it’s important to be honest. Stay with what is true about them and what actually happened.

  • Stick to the instructions. If the application gives you explicit instructions, don’t go out of bounds.

  • 1-2 pages max. Just like cover letters for jobs, if your reference letter is too long, it might not get read all the way through.

  • Write like a person. Feel free to use scripts from this page. You can even consult ChatGPT as you’re writing. But avoid the temptation to copy, paste, and edit ChatGPT. A recruiter will likely get the sense that it wasn’t from you. Bring a personal touch and make sure your own voice comes through. The more human and personalized your letter sounds, the more it will support the applicant.

  • You don’t have to agree to write this letter. If you really don’t want to write this letter or you just can’t think of positive things to say, you don’t have to write it! You could say something as simple as:  “We haven't worked closely together recently and I don't feel I can speak in depth about your current skills and abilities."

 

Ask for Background Information Before Starting

 

Before you get cracking on writing, it’s good to get as much information upfront as possible from the person you’re endorsing.

 

Consider asking your employee or colleague for the following:

 

  • Their current résumé

  • Description of the position they are applying for

  • Any specific examples they want you to highlight

  • Anything missing from their background that you could bolster (for example if they are applying for a leadership role but have never managed people, you could write about their excellent leadership skills)

  • What they think would make for a good reference letter

  • Why they chose you to write it

  • When they need it by

  • Their period of employment and official title when you worked together

 

All of this information should give you clarity on the constraints your letter will have to fit into.

 

Get in the Right State of Mind Before Starting

 

The last step before starting your letter is to get clear on what you want to write.

 

Try doing the following:

 

  1. Write down the top 3-5 qualities that the position they are applying for might be seeking.

  2. Write down the top 3-5 positive personal traits or key skills that come to mind about the person you are endorsing.Maybe they are a team player. Or perhaps they have good people skills, personal integrity, creative problem-solving skills, critical thinking, a strong level of commitment, impressive technical skills, or natural leadership skills. Those are just ideas. Write whatever feels authentic.

  3. Jot down a few positive work memories of this person.

 

Once you have these notes, you’ll be in good shape to craft them into a letter.

 

7 Steps To Write a Great Reference Letter

 

Now that you have all the information you need, and you’ve brainstormed this person’s top qualities, you can organize your letter in the following reference letter template format.

 

1. Open with a greeting

 

A letter of recommendation should start like any other letter. With "Dear so-and-so."

 

If you know their name, you can start it with “Dear Diana”

 

If you aren’t sure of their name, start with “To whom it may concern” or “Dear hiring team.”

 

2. Set context

 

Next is when you introduce yourself and your relationship to the applicant.

 

You could write something like:

 

I am writing to highly recommend Mel Sanchez for this role. From 2020 to 2023, Mel worked as a product analyst at Brighton Solutions, where she reported directly to me in my role as a Senior Product Manager.

 

Just make sure you put their role, your role, and what your relationship was together.

 

3. State your thesis

 

Do you remember back in school, you’d write papers by starting with a thesis, then explaining the thesis, then writing a conclusion? Same principle here.

 

The thesis, in this case, is fairly simple. It’s more or less: “These are the reasons that this person is awesome.”

 

For this section, share a little about yourself to lend credibility to your opinion. Then, state the best character traits of the applicant as it pertains to the role.

 

You’ll go into more detail about these qualities in the rest of the letter.

 

For example, you could write something like:

 

I have over 10 years of experience in the industry and have managed hundreds of direct reports, so I feel confident and well-positioned to say that Mel is a uniquely proactive and dependable employee.

 

4. Expand on their strengths

 

Next is when you extrapolate on the positive character traits of the applicant.

 

The goal of this section is to paint a picture of this person through descriptions and anecdotes.

 

For each positive quality you’d like to address, write a few paragraphs expanding on it and include an example.


It's generally a good idea to include two strengths you can write about very clearly and one strength that might otherwise be missing from their application.

 

In our sample text above, we already said that Mel was proactive. If we wanted to flesh that out in the next few paragraphs, we could write something like:

 

There have been countless times that I opened my email to a message from Mel proposing a new idea she wanted to spearhead on how to make things run more smoothly. [This is just another way of saying how proactive Mel is.]

 

One particular time she impressed me was when she noticed a huge bottleneck in our process. Mel proposed and created an entirely new system that was 30% faster. She seemed to enjoy taking on extra responsibility. And because of her, everyone got back a few hours a week! [An example of that pro-activity.]

 

This was one of countless moments when Mel saw an opportunity and went for it. To call her “enterprising” would be an understatement. [This is just emphasizing the point above.]

 

Note that if you want to write a persuasive reference letter, it’s not enough just to say that Mel is proactive. It makes a much stronger letter to give an example of when she exhibited this quality.

 

Just like the classic writing adage goes: “Show, don’t tell.”

 

5. What was it like to work with them

 

If you haven’t already, it can be a nice touch to talk about what it was like to work with this person. How did they impact you personally?

 

It could just be a simple sentence like:

 

Even though I was Mel’s boss and mentor, managing her left me feeling inspired and wondering what more I was capable of.

 

6. Close out

 

Now’s the time to pull it all together.

 

In this section, it’d be good to reiterate your recommendation. You could also link the applicant’s skills to the position they’re applying for.

 

Then, offer to provide more information if needed with your contact details.

 

An example might be:

 

Mel was an incredible employee, and if I could hire her again onto my team, I’d do so in a heartbeat. I can only imagine that her drive and love for work would be as infectious for your program as they were for our team.

 

If there’s any more information I can provide, please send me an email at Addison.Guava@BrightonSolutions.com

 

7. Signature

 

Lastly, close out with a signature. It’s good form to include a handwritten signature if you can to increase the level of officialness.

 

Sincerely,



Addison Guava Senior Product Manager Brighton Solutions, Inc.

 

If you’re struggling to upload a handwritten signature, try Signaturely.com.

 

Scripts for How to Write a Reference Letter

 

Based on what we went through above, let’s combine it all together for some possible scripts to reference.

 

Sample script for how to write a reference letter for an employee

 

Dear Diana,

 

I am writing to highly recommend Mel Sanchez for this role. From 2020 to 2023, Mel worked as a product analyst at Brighton Solutions, where she reported directly to me in my role as a Senior Product Manager.

 

I have over 10 years of experience in the industry and have managed hundreds of direct reports, so I feel confident and well-positioned to say that Mel is a uniquely proactive and dependable employee.

 

There have been countless times that I opened my email to a message from Mel proposing a new idea she wanted to spearhead on how to make things run more smoothly. [This is just another way of saying how proactive Mel is.]

 

One particular time she impressed me was when she noticed a huge bottleneck in our process. Mel proposed and created an entirely new system that was 30% faster. She seemed to enjoy taking on extra responsibility. And because of her, everyone got back a few hours a week!

 

This was one of countless moments when Mel saw an opportunity and went for it. To call her “enterprising” would be an understatement.

 

But she didn’t just solve problems. She was also there when it mattered.

I’ll never forget a time when I had a crucial deadline, but fell sick. This deadline was immovable. I was in a tough spot. But Mel noticed the situation and offered to help pick up slack. She was able to complete the last bits of the project and send it through the finishline.

 

I’ve never had an employee demonstrate such reliability in such a time of need. Mel’s dependability has always made me view her as the backbone of our team.

 

Even though I was Mel’s boss and mentor, managing her left me feeling inspired and wondering what more I was capable of.

 

Mel was an incredible employee, and if I could hire her again onto my team, I’d do so in a heartbeat. I can only imagine that her drive and love for work would be as infectious for your program as they were for our team.

 

If there’s any more information I can provide, please send me an email at Addison.Guava@BrightonSolutions.com.


Sincerely,



Ali Guava Senior Product Manager Brighton Solutions, Inc.

 

Sample script for how to write a reference letter for a coworker

 

To write a script for a coworker, use the same format as above. Here’s a different sample script to reference.

 

Dear Pat,

 

I am writing to give a strong recommendation to Amy Williams for the role of Creative Director. I worked alongside Amy as a fellow Art Director from 2018-2022 at Pyramid Designs.

 

I’ve since become a Creative Director myself. I’ve also worked with at least 10 art directors over the years, and I can say that Amy is a visionary like I’ve never seen in anyone else.

 

Every time she met with a client, she’d take in the info like everyone else. But unlike most others, who would spit out templated designs or fairly generic ideas, Amy treated every project like a work of art. She’d come up with ideas I had never seen before. Ideas she’d never seen before. And the clients were always thrilled.

 

One example that stands out is when she was tasked with redesigning the packaging of our flagship product. Instead of simply updating the graphics, Amy completely reimagined the packaging structure. She changed its shape to make it more functional and more beautiful. Our client was wowed, and it bumped sales by 15% in the first quarter.

 

This is just one example of many. Amy treats her job like more than a job. It’s her creative outlet, and when you work with her, it’s more than obvious that she wants to evolve the field of design and do things nobody has done before.

 

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as inspired by an exceptional colleague as I did when I worked alongside Amy.

 

All I can say is, if I were ever hiring a Creative Director, and Amy came my way, I wouldn’t even interview anyone else.

 

I’d be happy to share more if there’s anything else you’d like to know. Just send me an email at Carry.Chase@PyramidDesigns.com.


Sincerely, 



Carry Chase Creative Director Pyramid Designs, Inc.

 

Takeaways on Writing a Professional Reference Letter

 

If you’ve agreed to write a reference letter for an employee or coworker, just follow this simple framework, and you’ll be golden:

 

  • Address the recipient

  • Put the applicant’s role, your role, and what your relationship was together

  • State the biggest strengths of the applicant

  • Expand on those strengths and include anecdotes

  • Mention how working with them impacted you

  • Reiterate your endorsement of them and offer to provide more info with your contact details

  • Include a hand-written signature

 

And there you have it!

 

Best of luck in writing this letter. I’m sure your employee/colleague will be glad they asked you.


P.S. Not everyone loves writing reference letters but if you found it a rewarding task you might want to learn about what it's like to be a career coach, where you get trained to help people clarify and advance their careers. You can learn more about becoming a career coach here.

9 views0 comments

Commentaires


bottom of page