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How to write a reference letter for ex-employees

Updated March 23, 2017

People often ask previous employers for reference letters for future job-seeking purposes. If you are an employer and an ex-employee asks you to write a reference letter, agree to it only if you can give that person a positive reference. For example, if an employee left under less than stellar circumstances, you may prefer not to write a reference for him. However, if you're asked by someone who was a good employee and took the right approach when leaving the job, you'll most likely be willing to write a reference letter.

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  1. Use company letterhead. Reference letters look more professional and credible when companies use letterhead to write them on. Date the letter at the top, and address it "To Whom It May Concern" followed by a colon.

  2. Add a reference line. This is generally abbreviated by writing "Re:" followed by a brief summary of what the letter is in reference to. In this case, write the ex-employee's name after the colon.

  3. Begin the letter by stating the person's name followed by a sentence that explains this person was employed at your company for a stated time period. Include the title of the position the ex-employee held and the precise dates he was employed by your company.

  4. Describe yourself. Include a brief summary of your title and what your relationship was to the ex-employee. For example, you can write "I am the Director of Human Resources and this person reported directly to me daily." By establishing the close connection you had with the ex-employee, the reader may consider you a more credible reference than if you did not have a close working relationship.

  5. Describe the ex-employee. Explain the person's work duties during his time working at your company, and describe several positive character traits he displayed. Include adjectives and short statements that will help explain the person's character and work habits. You can include words such as friendly, hardworking, eager, timely and great interpersonal skills.

  6. Close the letter. If desired in the last paragraph, express your regret about this employee leaving your company. Use encouraging words to let the reader know this ex-employee is looking for new challenges, you are glad for him, and it was your loss when he left. Sign the letter "Sincerely," followed by your name.

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About the Author

Jennifer VanBaren started her professional online writing career in 2010. She taught college-level accounting, math and business classes for five years. Her writing highlights include publishing articles about music, business, gardening and home organization. She holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting and finance from St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, Ind.

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