How to write a good reference for someone seeking a job

Updated April 17, 2017

Whether you are a teacher, supervisor or just a family friend, everyone is eligible to be asked to write a good reference for someone seeking a job. Writing a letter of recommendation can be easily accomplished with a little forethought and the proper guidelines. When writing the reference, The University of Clemson Faculty Guidelines for Writing Recommendations advises the following format: "The letter should be about one page in length and generally consist of three parts: opening, body, and closing." Use the steps below to compose an appropriate letter of reference.

Begin the process of writing a good reference for someone seeking a job by mentally or physically gathering information about the candidate. Request additional resume details from the candidate, especially when you have insufficient information to confidently complete the given task.

Open your reference for someone seeking a job with a couple of phrases clearly explaining your relationship with the candidate. Then provide information regarding why the letter was written. Include other preliminary facts such as length of your relationship and responsibilities undertaken by the candidate. For example, "Rebecca Portnoy worked as an accountant under my supervision for five years. I am honoured to recommend her for a promotion to Team Leader."

Write the second paragraph of your reference for someone seeking a job by offering pertinent details about the candidate. Explain the personality traits of the candidate with descriptive adjectives such as "dedicated," "innovative," "motivated" and "responsible." Highlight other attributes that make the candidate special, for example "love of children," "exhibits infinite patience in times of stress" and "willing to do whatever it takes to complete a given task."

The University of Clemson Faculty Guidelines for Writing Recommendations suggests describing special skills or knowledge to help the candidate stand out from other applicants. Accomplishments such as being top of the class and taking continuing education classes, or certifications like CPR or first aid, fit well in this slot.

Close a good reference by summarising the previous information. At this point in the letter, specifically state that you definitively recommend the candidate for the job. A sentence that describes your confidence in the ability of the candidate to succeed reads nicely in the closing paragraph.

Sign the letter using the closing phrase "Sincerely" if the receiver is not an acquaintance, or use "Best Regards" for a person you know well or have met before.

Confidentiality and "Equal Opportunity" need to be kept in mind at all times while you write a good reference for someone seeking a job. As a teacher, when writing a recommendation for a minor, you must adhere to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). It simply states, "schools must have written permission from the parent or eligible student in order to release any information from a student's education record." As indicated by University of Wisconsin Green Bay, use your best judgment and do not include information that directly states or indirectly refers to "ethnic background, religion, national origin, age, handicap, citizenship status, sex or marital status."


A sample resume and cover letter from the candidate helps you personalise the reference.


Do not write a good reference for an unqualified or unknown candidate.

Things You'll Need

  • Information on the candidate
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About the Author

Victoria Weinblatt began writing articles in 2007, contributing to The Huffington Post and other websites. She is a certified yoga instructor, group fitness instructor and massage therapist. Weinblatt received her B.S. in natural resources from Michigan State University and an M.Ed. from Shenandoah University.