7+ Reference Letter Examples – PDF

At some point in life, you will most probably be tasked to write a reference letter recommending a former employee, student, colleague or even a family friend. You will be asked to write a letter verifying the quality of work, products and services of a certain person or company whom you have closely worked with. This just means that your judgment is considered very valuable and honest. You may also see formal letter examples and samples.

It can be flattering to be personally asked to write a reference letter about someone or something, however, it can also be nerve wracking to carry such responsibility. But the joy in helping someone you have professional relationship with outweighs the nervousness and burden it can bring. You may also like application letter examples & samples.

A reference letter is document written to testify a person’s or a company’s skills, services, qualifications, character and achievements. It assesses the subject’s qualities, characteristics, and capabilities in performing certain activities or actions. It is a formal letter written in business format using simple professional language.

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The term reference letter is often interchangeably used with the term recommendation letter. Although both are used for the same purpose – to introduce a person and vouch for his or her skills, abilities, integrity, character, and interests, there is still a significant difference to the two. You may also check out business proposal letter examples.

A recommendation letter is more specific than a reference letter. It is mostly used in obtaining an employment or admission. A recommendation letter usually contains the specific information the candidate is applying for, for example a specific job position in a company or admission to a university with a specific course and college. The information included in this letter is more related to skills and abilities than personal characteristics.

In this sense, a reference letter is more general or broad. It refers more on the overall character and/or morale of the candidate. The information used in a reference letter is more related to his/her personality and character than it is to their skills and abilities. However, the excelling skills and abilities of the candidate can still be included but it mostly highlights the candidates exceptional qualities and characteristics. You might be interested in complaint letter examples & samples.

This formal letter is mostly related to employment, admission or scholarship application. It can also be used by companies seeking to win contracts, bidding, etc. with regard to public procurement and tenders. This means, the reference letter assess the company’s or organization’s ability to deliver products and/or services.

When are Reference Letters Used?

There can be various reasons to use a reference letter. As it assesses and testifies the ability and credibility of a person or company/organization, it should be treated with importance. There is no distinctive list as to how and when to use a reference letter, but here are a few instances when a reference letter is deemed necessary and relevant:

  • When a candidate applies for a job, a reference letter supports their application.
  • If an interviewee is given a job offer, they might be required to submit a reference letter before the simple contract can be signed.
  • A reference letter to supports application to an academic course especially during college.
  • A student applying for funding or scholarship will most likely need to support their claims with reference letters.
  • Reference letters are used as testimonies to a company’s efficiency and ability to provide products and/or services. You may also see notice letter examples.
  • A reference letter is provided by prospective tenants to their landlords testifying to their good financial status. (This could be from a prior landlord or from a current employer.)

Scholarship Reference Letter Example

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Scholarship Reference Letter Example

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Graduate School Reference Letter Example

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Contents of a Reference Letter

Here are the most common content of a reference letter:

  1. The employee’s tasks and responsibilities
  2. The duration of employment or tasks/ responsibilities
  3. The position relative to the author of the reference letter
  4. The employee’s abilities, knowledge, creativity, intelligence
  5. The employee’s qualifications (foreign languages, special skills)
  6. The employee’s social attitude
  7. The employee’s power of rapport
  8. Reason(s) of employment termination
  9. Some text with the actual recommendation itself (e.g. ‘I unequivocally recommend … [name] as a … [function/ role] and would be happy to hire him/ her again’).

Types of Reference Letters

There are three main types of reference letter commonly used in different settings or circumstances. Here are the three main types of reference letters:

1. Employment-related reference letters

These are also known as the career references. These types of general reference letters are commonly used by people who are trying to get a new job. These are written by someone in the position to know a job applicant’s skills and relevant character traits, therefore, these letters are written by former employers of an applicant. Generally, these letters include information about employment history, job performance, work ethic, and personal accomplishments.

2. Academic letters of recommendation/reference

This is typically used by students or applicants during the admission process. In college, be it undergraduate or graduate studies, most schools prefer students to have at least two or three reference or recommendation letters. This can be used for applying for a fellowship or internship, or for scholarship applications.

These types of reference letter provides admission committee with the necessary information that may or may not be found in a college application, like the academic and work achievements, character references, and personal details. Students can request these reference letters from former teachers or professors, principals, deans, coaches, and other personnel in the academe that personally know the student’s academic experience or extracurricular achievements. Employers, community leaders, or mentors can also write these types of reference letters.

3. Character reference letters or personal references

This type of reference letter is commonly used for housing accommodations, legal situations, child adoption, requests for exclusive club or society membership and other circumstances where character plays a huge factor. These letter are generally less formal than the rest of the types. The most appropriate person to write these letters vary depending on the purpose of the letter, but these letters are commonly written by former employers, landlords, business associates, neighbors, doctors, acquaintances, etc. You may also see acknowledgement letter examples & samples.

Who Writes a Reference Letter?

As it may seem, a reference letter is a document worth a shot at employment, admission, scholarships and winning a bid, therefore, it is a credible source for making such major decisions. It is a formal document and telling the truth is crucial or there could be legal consequences. But who should write a reference letter for it to be deemed credible?

1. Someone who know the candidate reasonably well. For example, making a reference letter for someone who only took you classes for a week does not make you know the person reasonably well. Therefore, you cannot an should not provide any authoritative comment about his/her academic ability and prowess. You may also see thank-you letter examples.

2. Someone who knows the candidate in a capacity that gives him/her the ability to write a meaningful reference. For instance, if you have been able to work with the person for a decent amount of time it would be appropriate and acceptable for you to write him/her a reference letter for a future employer. You may also like how to write a personal letter with examples.

3. Someone who can provide an honest and positive reference. For example, if you know that the candidate has in fact no good qualifications you can emphasize on in the reference letter or if you have had any personal mishaps with the person in the past, it is better to ask the candidate to ask someone else for a reference letter. Lying in the reference letter can mean you have tolerated the bad qualities and can result in negligence and can be a basis for legal actions. You may also check out appointment letter examples & samples.

Employment Reference Letter Example

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Employment Reference Letter from Former Supervisor Example

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Reference Letter Example

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Tepid Reference Letter Example

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Immigration Application Reference Letter Example

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How to Write a Reference Letter

Before you begin to write a reference letter for someone, it is must to know the basics in structuring and how to flawlessly write the perfect reference letter. Here is an easy guide in writing a reference letter:

1. Start with a business letter format.

First off, you must write the reference letter in a business or formal letter format. since the letter will most likely be used for an academic or professional advances, it is only right to write it professionally as well. And since it is business or formal letter format, it must follow the rigid format of both. It can be structured using a full block style, modified block style and/or a semi block style.

Always put the return address or your address as the writer on top of the paper. The date is also a very important detail in the letter, write it below the return address. If known, put the recipient’s full name and address in the inside address below the date. If the recipient is not identified to you, you can put his/her designation instead. For example:

ABC Industries
DEF St., Somewhere City,
NY, 12234

After the addresses, you can begin the letter with salutation. If known personally, you can as “Dear (First Name)”. If the recipient is unknown, unfamiliar or someone you don’ share a personal connection with like in most academic or scholarship application setting, then you can use “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern”.  And unlike in informal or personal letters where you use a comma (,) after the name of the recipient in the salutation, in this case since it is a business letter, use colon (:) instead. For example, “Dear Mr. Jones:” or “To whom it may concern:”

2. Introduce yourself in the opening paragraph.

It is always good to introduce yourself in the first paragraph of the letter. However, there is no need to discuss your history or your various qualifications. Just explain in a brief sentence or two your position or designation that makes you qualified to write a reference letter about the subject and the relationship you have with him/her. You may also see how not to write a business letter.

3. Confirm the facts about the candidate.

In the second paragraph of your letter, it should be allotted to confirm the facts you supply in the letter. For example, if you are from his/her previous employment and you are asked to make him/her a reference letter for a job application, these details are the most appropriate to include:

  • His/Her job title, and role within the company.
  • His/Her leaving salary when they were last employed by you (or your organisation).
  • The dates with which he/she was employed from and until.

If you are writing a reference letter to be used in the academe, you will need to include and confirm his/her grades and where he/she excels.

4. Provide judgement upon the candidate’s skills and qualities.

You must provide judgement on the candidates skills and qualities in the third paragraph of your reference letter. It is always better to single out his/her exceptional qualities and unique skills for example his/her enthusiasm, passion, efficiency, his/her attention to detail or his/her leadership abilities. It is also very convincing if you state that you would gladly re-employ them or that his/her contributions in your class was very helpful and valuable to the whole class. You may also like employee reference letter samples.

5. Give concrete examples, if possible.

If possible use the fourth paragraph to include and determine concrete examples of the times when the candidate has displayed excellence. This can be about the extra-curricular projects and activities done by the candidate, or ask them to highlight anything thy would like to include in the reference letter. You may also check out termination letter examples & samples.

6. Conclude in a positive note.

Always conclude the letter in a positive note. Remember that you are helping the candidate market and sell himself/herself to the recipient for academic or professional reasons. Wrap up the letter with restating the key skills, qualities and/or achievements of the candidate. If you are willing to pursue further correspondence about the reference letter or application, state this and make this clear in the conclusion of the letter, you can include your contact information here as well. You might be interested in two weeks notice letter examples & samples.

7. Use appropriate closing.

As with any business or forma letter, always use appropriate professional closing. You can use “Your sincerely” if you are writing to a named recipient and “Yours faithfully” if you do not know who the recipient will be. Although, there are quite a few more closings you can use, just use the appropriate one for the specific setting. You may also see complaint letter examples.

8. Affix your signature and contact information.

Below your formal closing, affix your signature above your printed name. Your signature will be proof and verify the legitimacy of the letter. If you wish to write your contact information below your printed name instead of the closing paragraph, it is acceptable to do so. You may also like new hire welcome letter examples.


A reference letter can have a big impact to a candidate’s or applicant’s chance of achieving their goal. Reference letters can help hiring managers or the admission committee in choosing the most qualified candidate for the position, admission or scholarship. Therefore, when a writing a reference letter it is important that you understand its significance and the basic ways how to flawless structure and write it. You may also check out how to write an official letter.

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