What Is A Reference Letter? (With Tips And Example)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 5 January 2023

Published 26 August 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A reference letter provides employers with a different perspective of your qualities and characteristics. While your job application shows your skills, experience and education, it gives details about certain accomplishments and helps hiring managers to see how you work. Whether you need to write one or ask for one, learning what to include can be useful information. In this article, we explain what a reference letter is and how to write one and show you an example.

What Is A Reference Letter?

It is a document that you send along with your job application that elaborates on your skills, experience and qualifications. Some employers may ask for it in addition to your CV, cover letter and application. Even if an employer does not ask for a reference letter, you can still present one if you feel it can boost your chances of getting the job.

Related: What Are References? (Types, Benefits And Examples)

There are two main types of references:

  • Personal: A personal reference is someone who belongs in the non-professional sphere of your life, or someone who knows you personally and can vouch for your attributes. People from your school and college, someone you volunteered with and long-time friends can be personal references. It is best to avoid using close family members or a spouse as references, since employers usually consider them biased sources.

  • Professional: A professional reference is someone you have worked with who can attest to your experience and professional accomplishments. Professional references can include close colleagues, managers, supervisors and even human resources personnel. You can use a professional reference letter for any job.

When Should You Include A Reference Letter?

If the employer does not specifically ask for one, it depends solely upon your discretion whether you want to provide one with your application or not. Consider sending a reference letter if it highlights certain achievements or skills that relate directly to the role. A strong letter of reference can help you stand out from other candidates, especially if the company does not require one. If you are a fresher, it is acceptable to provide a personal reference since you might not have many professional relationships yet. However, if you are an experienced candidate, it is better to provide a professional one.

Related: How To Ask for a Letter of Recommendation in an Email

Selecting A Reference

Reference letters should be written by people who know you, your strengths, your work ethic and your achievements. If you are asking someone to write one for you, be polite and accommodating, avoid imposing on them and give them the chance to refuse if they are uncomfortable. Most important of all, ask them in person and not over the phone, email or text. Asking in person shows you genuinely care about and value them.

The person you select as a reference should be someone you know well who can accurately describe you. They should be someone who thinks highly of you and your abilities. They should be aware of your everyday responsibilities, habits, ethics, goals, character, achievements and performance. Your potential employer should get a clear picture of who you are and how you can contribute to the growth of the organisation.

If you need a professional reference, make sure that you have known the person for at least six months and have directly worked with them. A personal reference should be someone whom you have known for at least a year. That way, you have a better connection with the reference, and they can confidently write about you. Employers are more likely to trust a reference if you have known the person for a long time.

Related: How To Write an Appreciation Letter (With Example)

How To Write A Reference Letter?

If someone asks you to write one, here are the steps you should take:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the individual. When someone asks you to write a reference letter for them, schedule a meeting or a phone call so you can gather information about them. If you need to, get an update about where they are in their career, what they consider to be their strengths and why they are applying for the job. This will help you write a thorough letter.

  2. Add a salutation. Try to get the name of the recipient to use for the salutation. This will make the letter feel more personal. 'To Whom It May Concern' and 'Dear Hiring Manager' are both acceptable options if you do not know the name. These options and 'Dear Hiring Committee' are also good when multiple people will review the letter.

  3. Explain your relationship to the applicant. In your introduction, describe how you know the applicant. Detail how long you have known them and if your relationship is professional, personal or both. Giving this information gives you credibility, making the hiring manager more likely to trust your recommendation.

  4. Describe their skills or traits. Choose one or two skills or traits to focus on in your letter. If you can, learn about the job they are applying for to see if you can discuss some of the required skills, which can make the letter more relatable. You can always choose some of their best strengths that you have seen them demonstrate.

  5. Use examples to expand on the skills or traits. To highlight the applicant's skills, think of specific examples. Make sure the examples are direct and have a favourable outcome to make the letter positive.

  6. End the letter by describing why you think they are a fit candidate. Summarise the skills that you highlighted, then explain why you think they make the applicant a good fit. Let the employer know you are available if they have additional questions. Specify if you prefer a certain contact method or if there are better times to reach you.

  7. Add your contact information. At the end of the letter, add your signature, name, title, company, phone number and email address so the employer can reach you if necessary.

Related: How To Address a Letter: A Step-by-Step Guide With Examples

Sample Reference Letter

Here is an example of a professional reference letter:

To Whom It May Concern,

I, Ravinder Singh, have known Anil Jaisingh for the past three years. We met during Anil's interview process with his previous employer, Tata Consultancy Services, and when he was assigned to my team afterward. In the course of his employment, I was his immediate supervisor as he received two promotions and became an asset to the company.

Anil was very attentive to his team members as a team leader and later as a project manager. He was inclusive and made sure everyone had a voice. He inspired his team members even during stressful situations and ensured project completion by securing wholehearted participation from everyone. Anil created a positive environment around him and is very receptive to new ideas, technologies and learning.

Once, Anil implemented a new system within the department to help others learn new technologies. By partnering with other teams, our online platform and the human resources department, he was able to eventually implement the system in the whole company.

Anil is a very dedicated, polite and positive person, and I recommend him for the position of product manager as it is my firm belief that he will be a valuable addition to any organisation.

Please feel free to contact me for further information or to answer any additional questions you may have.


Ravinder Singh

Product Manager

Tata Consultancy Services

40 5743 6427


Tips For Writing A Great Reference Letter

Here are some tips to follow if you are writing a letter of reference:

  • Use a business format: Write the letter in a proper business format. If you are unsure of this format, there are various templates available to help you with it. If it is going to be presented physically to the employer, it must contain your handwritten signature. If the letter is being sent as an email or an attachment, your signature would not be required, but it should be made clear that you are open to further contact by the employer.

  • Use correct language and tone: The tone and language of the reference should be open and positive. It should speak positively about the person and highlight their achievements. When your letter is direct and positive, it assures the employer that you are confident of the applicant's abilities.

  • Keep it professional: The letter should not contain any personal or confidential details about the applicant's life. This is something that should be left at the discretion of the person applying for the job. Instead, focus on what makes them right for the position.


  • How to Write A Referral Letter (With Sample And Example)
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Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are associated with Indeed.

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