What can I write in an employee reference?

employee reference

An employee reference is an important part of the employment process. With this in mind, employers should make the effort to write a reference and provide accurate and informative feedback when doing so.


Providing a reference is a professional courtesy that demonstrates a level of respect for the employee and the hiring company. Well-written and informative feedback also helps to maintain a positive reputation as an employer.



However, it’s important to make yourself aware of what is and isn’t acceptable to write in an employee reference. This will help you to avoid any problems it may cause for you or the employee in the future.




What should a reference for employees include?

This type of feedback can simply include basic details or information on conduct. Typically, this can be:


  • Employee’s full name
  • Job title
  • Employment dates
  • department or team they worked in
  • Job duties and responsibilities
  • Work ethic and performance
  • Character and conduct
  • Training and development
  • Reason for leaving
  • An overall assessment of the employee, including any personal qualities that make them a suitable candidate for the job they are applying for.


You can write as much or as little as you like in the employee reference. As long as the information is factual, accurate, and non-discriminatory.



How to give a good reference


References can play a crucial role in the hiring decisions of potential employers. A positive reference can help an employee stand out from other candidates and increase their chances of being offered the job.



When giving a reference, most employers will give you a reference template to fill in. Most of the time, the questions asked will be around the employee’s ability, conduct, timekeeping and attendance. You don’t have to complete the template the employer sent to you and you can use your own if you wish.


1. Be Honest 

Ensure that the information you provide in the employee reference is truthful and accurate. Avoid exaggerating the employee’s abilities or accomplishments, but also avoid making any negative comments that may harm their chances of securing the job.


2. Avoid personal opinion

When giving your comments on these, remember not to give your personal opinion. For example, if the former employee has been off for 5 days in the last 3 months do not write that their attendance is poor as the new employer may not necessarily think that is poor. Simply just write the employee has been off for 5 days in the last 3 months as this information is factual and not based on opinion.


3. Highlight the employee’s strengths in the employee reference

Focus on the employee’s strengths and achievements, particularly those that are relevant to the job they are applying for. Use specific examples to demonstrate their skills and abilities.


4. Be specific

Provide specific details about the employee’s job duties, responsibilities, and accomplishments. This will help the potential employer to understand the employee’s role and contributions.



5. Use a professional tone

Use a professional and objective tone throughout the reference. Avoid using overly casual language or making personal comments about the employee.



By following these tips when writing an employee reference, you can provide effective information that accurately reflects the employee’s skills, abilities, and character, and helps them to secure the job they are applying for.



Can I give an employee a bad reference?

If an employee’s performance has been poor or they were dismissed for serious misconduct, refer specifically to the problems experienced with the employee (as well as any positive points, in the interest of balance). A bad reference is permissible, provided that it is not malicious and that you took reasonable care to ensure that the information is true. For example, by investigating any matter giving rise to the bad employee reference.


If an employee has been dismissed, ensure that the statements made in the reference tally with the reasons given for the dismissal.


You should also err on the side of caution and confirm only factual information. You may be asked to give an opinion on someone’s ability to do a role that you’re not familiar with, therefore you shouldn’t attempt to answer that.


If you haven’t had a positive experience with an employee, it may be a better idea to kindly decline writing an employee reference that isn’t very complimentary to the staff member.



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