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How to ask for a reference letter from applicant
October 13, 2018 Anniversary Wishes No comments

A reference letter can make or break an application. Learn how to write a letter of How to ask for a letter of recommendation. How to write a.

People often use the terms recommendation letter and reference letter interchangeably, but the two differ in both style and purpose. A recommendation letter supports the candidate’s application for a specific scholarship, program, job or other opportunity. A reference letter is a general endorsement of the person’s character, knowledge and skills.

Sending the Letter

In most cases, a letter of recommendation is sent directly to the university, employer or program director. You might never see the letter; some organizations request that it come from the writer and not from the applicant. With a reference letter, however, the person writing it often gives it to the student or employee, allowing him to keep it on hand for future use.

Content and Structure

A recommendation letter is typically more specific than a reference letter. It addresses how well an applicant is qualified for a certain opportunity such as a fellowship or job. The writer not only comments on the person’s strengths and personal and professional qualities, but also elaborates on how his skills and talents make him the ideal candidate for the position. The writer might also expressly indicate that he recommends the person without reservation for the opportunity. A letter of reference, on the other hand, is more general. The writer might discuss general characteristics such as the person’s work ethic, leadership potential or ability to work as part of a team.

Choosing the Right Person

When selecting someone to write a recommendation letter, choose a person who can comment on your qualifications for the specific position or honor. If you’re applying for an award or commendation, for example, ask your direct supervisor, who likely knows the quality of your work better than anyone. You have more leeway when seeking reference letters. While you should never ask family, you can ask friends if you need a personal or character reference. You can also ask colleagues or people you know within the industry, in addition to or instead of your boss.

Etiquette

A recommendation letter usually comes with a deadline. Approach people well in advance – at least one month before you need the letter. If the organization asks that letter writers use an official form, fill in your name and other pertinent information. If the person will use his own letterhead, offer him a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Supply him not only with your resume and other information about your qualifications, but also with information about the program or job. For a reference letter, ask two weeks in advance. Give the person information that elaborates on your qualifications or offer to write a draft letter he can use as a model.

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Since you are one of the applicant's primary professional references, I am writing today to request your personal insight into (Name of Applicant)'s abilities and.

Asking candidates for references email template

how to ask for a reference letter from applicant

Use this template when requesting a reference for a new employee from their former employers to check the candidate's qualifications and past behavior.

If you’re thinking of requesting a reference for a potential employee, you’re probably in the final stages of your hiring process – so, well done! Your finalist candidate may have provided you with a list of references or you could have done some research on your own to find former employers.

Whatever the case, it’s best to reach out to former employers with a friendly email before calling them. You will learn what’s a convenient time to connect and give some time to the employer to remember the employee and prepare their answer. This way you’ll increase the chances of receiving useful information. Here’s an email template you can customize to your needs:

Subject line: Could you provide a reference for [Candidate_name]?

Hello [Name],

My name is [your name] and I work for [your company name]. We’re in the process of hiring for a [job title] and one of your former colleagues, [Candidate_name], has made the final cut.

Before we make an official offer, I’d like some more information to ensure we’re making the right choice. I’m reaching out to you because [Candidate_name pointed to you as a potential reference/ mentioned you were her manager for several years/ etc.] It’d be very useful if you could tell me a bit about your overall experience working with [Candidate_name] and whether you’d recommend [him/her].

Could I call you for a brief discussion today or tomorrow? Please let me know if the number [Candidate_name] provided is accurate: [+00100000000]. If you’d rather send me information via email, feel free to do so.

Of course, our communication is confidential.

Thank you for your help,

[Your name]
[Email signature]

When requesting a reference for a new employee via phone, ask a few targeted questions to get a well-rounded view of their past work and behavior. Check out our list of reference check questions.

Also, check out our employee reference request template that helps you send an email requesting references from a candidate more efficiently.

Looking for an all-in-one recruiting solution? Workable can improve candidate sourcing, interviewing and applicant tracking for a streamlined hiring process. Sign up for our 15-day free trial today.

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A Guide to Writing Recommendation Letters

how to ask for a reference letter from applicant

Before extending a job offer to candidates, consider getting references from their former managers or coworkers. This way, you can make well-rounded hiring decisions by getting feedback from people who’ve seen your potential hires on the job.

Use the following email template to ask candidates to provide references during the final hiring stages. Two or three contacts are usually sufficient to learn about candidates’ past work performance. To avoid back-and-forth emails, make sure you ask candidates to send you all necessary contact information, including names, phones or emails and the working relationship they had with their references. You can ask specifically to get references from managers if, for example, you want to learn whether your candidates can follow instructions, take initiative and meet deadlines. To check how candidates behave as part of a team, ask for references from coworkers.

Subject line: [Job_title] at [Company_name]

Dear [Candidate_name] / Hi [Candidate_name],

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about the [Job_title] position and [completing your assignment]. We enjoyed getting to know you and we’d like to move to the [next/final] stage of the process. Could you provide me with [two] references of yours? It would be nice if you could send me the names, reporting relationship and phones or emails of [two] of your former [managers/colleagues].

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

All the best / Kind regards,

[Your name]
[Your email signature]

Related resources:

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Please prepare a list of 6 potential references, including their preferred contact information, job title.

Request Information About an Applicant

how to ask for a reference letter from applicant

Here are samples, templates and examples for writing letters of references for employment, character or personal reference. When writing a reference letter never include any negative criticism or defamatory comments as this could constitute libel. If you have nothing good to say about a person it is better to say nothing at all, and simply decline to write one. The same applies to giving references over the phone - if they are verbally negative they could be deemed slanderous. There are also implications for verbal and written references stemming from Age Discrimination Laws and Equality Legislation and related best practice.

It's better to approach requests for writing references letters positively - everyone has at least one or two good qualities which can be mentioned. If your organization has policies for managers writing reference letters for employees or ex-employees, follow the rules (for instance requiring letters to be approved by HR department).

If you require a reference from your employer it sometimes helps to draft one yourself for your manager or HR department - many managers do not have the time or are unsure about what to write, so ask if a draft letter would be helpful. Here are some examples and templates for reference letters which cover most situations. If the addressee is not known or the letter is required for general purposes, use 'To whom it may concern', instead of 'Dear Sir or Madam'. Obviously if the addressee is known then use the full name and address as this will increase the professionalism, and therefore the credibility, of the letter.

Character reference letters should be recently dated, short and to the point, and very professionally presented. Poorly presented, two-year-old, 5th generation photo-copied letters full of spelling mistakes and coffee stains will almost certainly do more harm than good. The overall quality of the letter reflects directly on the person who is the subject of the letter.

Ensure you are acting within your authority if you are writing on behalf of an organization using the official letterhead. If, as a manager, you wish to give a reference but are not permitted to do so by your organization - which would be very unusual - you might consider providing one in a personal capacity on your own private letterhead. For all requests for writing reference letters, remember the maxim 'If you can't say anything good, don't say anything'. The extent to which you praise the person in a reference letter depends on your own personal feelings - if you want to help the person a lot then do so: well-written, positive can be very helpful indeed.

In the UK the 1988 Data Protection Act has important implications for employment and education references.

See the section dealing with Data Protection and 'Subject Access Rights' in relation to references below. This is essential for employers, and very useful too for individuals, in terms of rights of access to references.

Spelling note: These tips and samples generally use spellings based on UK-English common form, for example, 'recognise', 'organise', 'specialise', whereas US-English uses the 'ize' spelling. Other words ending with 'our/or' - such as endeavour/endeavor, favour/favor - also vary in UK-English and US-English. Please change the spellings in your own references letters to suit your situation.

Reference letters structure/template

  • Addressee name and address if known
  • Date
  • Salutation ('To whom it may concern', or 'Dear Sir or Madam', or 'Dear <title> <surname>')
  • Confirm dates, job title(s) capacity, and salary and benefits details if required/appropriate.
  • Confirm that the person's performance and attitude was (at all times) satisfactory/exceeded expectations or standards.
  • Briefly explain the person's responsibilities (optional)
  • Briefly describe their skills/qualifications/strengths/characteristics (optional)
  • State that you would willingly re-employ the person if the opportunity arose (optional, and very re-assuring for the reader)
  • Offer to provide more information if required (optional)
  • Yours faithfully (or 'Yours sincerely' if writing to a named addressee)

N.B. It's a matter for your own discretion how much praise and positive information to include in the letter, hence the optional items.

Employment reference letter template sample


Date

To whom it may concern,

I confirm that (name) is/was employed as (position) with this organisation from (date) to (date/the present day), and was/is paid (salary, plus bonus and benefits as applicable).

Their job of (position) carries the following responsibilities (describe briefly the job). (Name) is skilled in (details of skills) and is also (characteristics - eg reliable dependable, a good communicators, etc).

I would happily re-employ (name) as I consider him/her to be a valuable member of the team, who consistently achieved good results and delivers all expectations.

Yours faithfully, etc


Spelling note: These references letters tips and references letters samples generally use spellings based on UK-English common form, for example, 'recognise', 'organise', 'specialise', whereas US-English uses the 'ize' spelling. Other words ending with 'our/or' - such as endeavour/endeavor, favour/favor - also vary in UK-English and US-English. Please change the spellings in your own references letters to suit your situation.

Character or personal reference letters

Certain situations require character reference letters of a more personal nature, such as character testimonials or references relating to court proceedings, or for a position in non-business organizations such as councils, trusts, clubs, or societies. In these cases follow the same principles: do not defame a person in writing or verbally when providing a reference; state only positives or nothing at all. If you need a personal or character reference always ask the writer if it would help to provide them with a draft. Writing references is time-consuming and difficult for many people - offering to provide a draft may sound cheeky, but it is often necessary and much appreciated by the writer (incidentally called the 'referee').

Be aware that offering to provide a written character reference relating to a person's court proceedings may lead to your being asked to appear in court as a character witness - so be sure that whatever you write you'd be comfortable stating it in a court of law.

Example and template for personal or character reference letter


Date

To whom it may concern

I confirm that I have known (name) for (number) years.

(State relationship - social, business, working together in some other capacity, club, activity, project, etc.)

At all times I have found (name/him/her) to be (state characteristics - eg, dependable, reliable, hard-working, conscientious, honest, peace-loving, courteous, etc - to be as helpful as possible think about what the reader will most prefer to see, in terms of satisfying concerns, or seeing evidence of relevant required skills or characteristics).

I'm happy to provide further information if required. (optional)

Yours faithfully, etc.


See the section dealing with Data Protection and 'Subject Access Rights' in relation to references below. This is essential for employers, and very useful too for individuals, in terms of rights of access to references.

Character reference letters for court appearances

Here's an example of the sort of letter you can write if asked to provide a character reference for someone you know who is to appear in court on a criminal charge. First ensure that you are personally comfortable with the responsibility of providing the character reference and potentially being called to appear in court as a character witness (the accused legal team should normally advise you on how best you can help - if in doubt ask). When using the sample letter below you can substitute the relevant character aspects of the accused that you wish to endorse or support, and which should logically relate to, and counter, the type of behaviour alleged in the court charge. If the charge relates to violence you should try to endorse and describe peace-loving attributes; if the charge relates to dishonesty, obviously try to endorse and describe honesty attributes. Integrity endorsements are obviously helpful for any situation because they hopefully support the validity of the accused person's own statements in court.

N.B. It is important to bear in mind that whatever you write you should be comfortable and capable of reliably repeating, and potentially providing examples, if required, under oath in court. Both the prosecution and defence sides have the right to force witnesses of all sorts to appear personally in court, and while most written statements and letters do not lead to a requirement to appear in person, the possibility of the need arising always exists.

Sample character reference letter (written by the character witness)

Obviously, change gender as applicable.


(date)

To whom it may concern (or Your Honour, or as advised by legal team)

Person's Full Name (heading)

I have known (name) for (number) years as (state relationship - business associate, staff member, socially, etc).

I can confirm that he is a man of great integrity, is extremely dedicated to his family and work, and is entirely peace-loving. (substitute character descriptions as applicable).

Furthermore, (add further character descriptions and/or examples of the person's behaviour and/or history supporting the above testimonial.)

For your information, I am (personal statement building your own credibility - details of position held and any other details that help build your own credibility, particularly any experience in judging the characteristics or behaviour referenced above).

Yours faithfully

Name

Position (if applicable)


Spelling note: These references letters tips and references letters samples generally use spellings based on UK-English common form, for example, 'recognise', 'organise', 'specialise', whereas US-English uses the 'ize' spelling. Other words ending with 'our/or' - such as endeavour/endeavor, favour/favor - also vary in UK-English and US-English. Please change the spellings in your own references letters to suit your situation.

Trade reference letters (for quality of service)

You may be asked by one of your suppliers to provide a trade reference letter, which they will present to a new customer seeking assurances of quality of service, reliability, etc. (See below for a sample letter relating to payment and credit-worthiness) Here's an example of a trade reference letter relating to quality of service. Use a letterheaded sheet, and date it. The subject of the letter could be a company, a sole trader or freelance supplier. Use the name of the person or the company as the heading.

Letters like this typically begin with 'To whom it may concern', which enables the reference to be used for different people requesting one.

Then insert the heading, and follow with your statement(s). It will help you to write the letter if you ask the supplier what they feel will be most useful to include. Be honest, and as generous in your praise as you can be. (As with any reference request, if you cannot say anything positive, say nothing at all.)

If you are writing a letter like this on behalf of your organization for one of its suppliers, ensure you obtain necessary approval from a director or appropriate authority (typically a finance or purchasing director), and in certain circumstances (for significant or very important references) you could actually ask the person in authority to sign the letter and send it in their name.

Trade references letters sample (for quality of service)


(date)

To whom it may concern

New Company Ltd (the supplier or person who is the subject of the reference)

I confirm that I have dealt with New Company Ltd since 1998, during which time they have provided my business with excellent support in the areas of website engineering, site optimisation, search engine analysis and site submission. Their work has been a major factor in our website's success, helping it to become one of the most visited resources of its kind on the Internet.

I can confidently recommend New Company Ltd as a solid and reliable supplier, and experts in their field.

Yours faithfully

(name and title)


Trade reference letters sample (for credit worthiness)

This is an example of a trade reference letter relating to a person's or organization's credit-worthiness and reliability for making payments. You may be asked by one of your suppliers or customers for such a letter, which they will present to a new supplier who is seeking assurances of their financial reliability and credit-worthiness. Use a letterheaded sheet, and date it. The subject of the trade letter could be a company, a sole trader or freelance supplier. Use the name of the person or the company as the heading.

Letters like this typically begin with 'To whom it may concern', which enables the reference to be used for different people requesting one.

Then insert the heading, and follow with your reference statement(s). It will help you to write the letter if you ask the supplier what they feel will be most useful to include. Be honest, and avoid negative comments as this amounts to defamation. (As with any reference request, if you cannot say anything positive, say nothing at all.)

If you are writing a letter like this on behalf of your organization for one of its suppliers, ensure you obtain necessary approval from a director or appropriate authority (typically a finance or purchasing director), and in certain circumstances (for significant or very important references) you could actually ask the person in authority to sign the letter and send it in their name.


(date)

To whom it may concern

New Company Ltd (the supplier or person who is the subject of the reference)

I confirm that New Company Ltd has been a customer of ours since 1998, during which time they have always made payments reliably, in full and on time.

Yours faithfully

(name and title)


Request for reference (from past employers and referees) 

This template is for employers seeking references from current or previous employers or other character referees for job applicants, candidates and interviewees. The template can be amended for sending to other nominated referees (eg., character reference providers).

When seeking a reference about a potential new employee or job candidate you should ask permission of the person involved.

Failing to do so undermines trust and confidence before the new person has even started the job, and sends a signal that the employer does not have strong ethical standards. Failing to divulge information relating to data obtained and held about an individual also has implications in the UK under the Data Protection Act, see below for more details.

In any event, being open and cooperative about seeking references displays trust, and demonstrates positive and ethical standards - all of which of course are very appealing employer qualities in the eyes of most employees, and especially high calibre employees. Good practice assumes that employees should always be informed clearly through appraisals and other processes as to their weaknesses, failings and transgressions. Keeping such information secret only stores up problems for the future.

Sending a template or 'pro-forma' containing relevant criteria makes it easier for the provider than simply asking to provide a reference, which stumps many referees. Better to ask them exactly what you want to know. Sending a specially created form for references therefore increases your chances of getting a reply at all, and also getting the answers about the person's characteristics and history that you most need.

As with all of the free templates on this page, employers should check with their relevant employment law department or advisors before creating, adapting and using letters and forms relating to references and recruitment, so that legal implications can be properly considered. International employment law varies around the world, and changes over time, for example the Ageism legislation effective in the UK in October 2006. When requesting and providing references it is important to act within all relevant laws relating to discrimination (gender, race, disability, etc) in addition to the laws surrounding libel and defamation, etc.

Feel free to change any of the criteria or positioning statements in the sample template below, especially if sending it to referees who are not previous or past employers (character referees, for example). For most references the criteria listed below are too many. Delete what you don't need so that you don't waste people's time providing information that is not needed.

In addition, you can also show a form like this to each job applicant to get their agreement that it's okay to send it to their referees/past employers. You could also (if you'd like to be very progressive and open about this) even ask the applicant or job candidate if they'd like anything else of relevance to be added to the form, as might enable the clearest and most helpful outcome from the exercise. Little is gained from being secretive about things, whereas much can be gained from being open and up-front.

Either incorporate this template within a letter or attach it to a covering letter, and send it to the nominated reference provider(s).

You will improve response rates if you send a stamped addressed envelope with the reference request.

Additionally (in the UK) you can help inform yourself and others about how the Data Protection Act relates to employment references (and other types of references, such as for education) by reading and enclosing a copy of the official Good Practice Notes relating to Data Protection and References, explained and available in the Data Protection and Access Rights section below.

Communicating and agreeing clear expectations with people will always greatly improve your success in everything you do, especially in sensitive areas such as requesting and giving employment references.

Request for reference template

Adapt and amend this template to suit the situation - and seek approval from the person concerned for the final version. Leave sufficient space for comments between each point. If you include every possible criterion on your 'master' form, you can delete the criteria which do not apply for each reference request situation.


(your logo, address, etc)

Confidential - Request for Reference

date...............

name of applicant..............

The above has applied for a job as ................................ with us and has suggested you might provide a reference, or has agreed that we can contact you for one. I'd be grateful for you to provide whatever details you feel able to according to the criteria below. Please don't write anything that might compromise you or your organisation (if applicable), although where clear evidence exists of significant negative history, especially of a serious nature, then we'd be grateful for such information.

If you'd prefer to speak on the phone please call me on ..................

Delete/ignore as applicable.

1. The above person was/is employed with us as .............................................. date(s) ........................

(provide estimates if precise dates are not readily available)

2. General character

3. Attitude

4. Relationships with others/peers/subordinates

5. Team-working

6. Personal integrity and honesty

6. Reliability

7. Calmness under pressure

8. Competence (state skills if appropriate..........................)

9. Ambition

10. Overall performance in past role(s) with your organisation

11. Qualifications/Training attained

12. Why did the person leave?

13. Would you re-employ the person if a suitable vacancy existed?

14. Any other comments?

15. Under the Data Protection Act (UK) the person named above would normally have access to the information provided here if requesting it from the receiving organisation. The organisation providing the reference is exempt under the Data Protection Act - but the organisation receiving the reference is not. If there are strong reasons for protecting confidentiality (risk to referee, etc) please state them here. For your information the law relating to data protection and references is explained at www.ico.org.uk.

16. Please be aware also that references are subject to legislation relating to equality and discrimination, which from 1st October 2006 also includes age.

Respondent's/Referee's signature ............................................... date..........................

Respondent's/Referee's name and title..........................................................................

On behalf of (employer/organisation, if applicable) .......................................................

Please return this form to .....................................

Reference number ...............................................

Contact details of sender of this request (email, phone, etc) .......................................................

Please make a copy of your reply for your own records and if in doubt about anything you'd like to state on this form please seek advice before writing and sending a response.

Thank you for your assistance.


Spelling note: These references letters tips and references letters samples generally use spellings based on UK-English common form, for example, 'recognise', 'organise', 'specialise', whereas US-English uses the 'ize' spelling. Other words ending with 'our/or' - such as endeavour/endeavor, favour/favor - also vary in UK-English and US-English. Please change the spellings in your own references letters to suit your situation.

Data Protection Act and employment references

The law in the UK (Apr 2006) is that employers giving references are exempt from the 'Subject Access Rights' section of the Data Protection Act, but employers receiving references are not, unless there are extremely strong reasons for preserving the confidentiality or anonymity of the reference provider (a personal risk to the referee, for example). In most cases, reasons for withholding information will not outweigh the individual's rights to 'subject access' as the Data Protection Act defines it. The arbiter in cases where a dispute might arise, is the Information Commissioner (ICO), being the government department responsible for ensuring compliance with the 1988 Data Protection Act.

See the ICO's Good Practice Notes on 'Subject Access and Employment References' from the ICO website (April 2006). This good practice note clarifies how the Data Protection Act 1998 applies to employment references. The recommendations also apply to other types of reference, such as those provided for educational purposes. This document is ICO copyright and reproduced with permission.

You can enclose a copy of the Good Practice Note with the request for reference if you feel it will be helpful for the recipient, in which case check with the ICO that you have the up-to-date version (link below).

The practical implications of the Data Protection Act are that regardless of a referee's request (or perception) that the contents of a reference will be withheld from the person who is the subject of the reference, it is unlikely that the receiving organisation can do this, should they actually want to. People requesting, giving and receiving references need to understand this, and also need to understand the details of of the Data Protection Act relating to employment references. 

If you're in a real hurry the ICO summarises 'Recommended Good Practice' relating to References and Data Protection as follows (from the ICO website, extracted April 2006):

"In most circumstances, you should provide the information in a reference, or at least a substantial part of it, to the person it is about if they ask for it. Even if the referee refuses consent, this will not necessarily justify withholding the information, particularly where this has had a significant impact on the individual, such as preventing them from taking up a provisional job offer. However, there may be circumstances where it would not be appropriate for you to release a reference, such as where there is a realistic threat of violence or intimidation by the individual towards the referee. You should consider whether it is possible to conceal the identity of the referee, although often an individual will have a good idea who has written it. If it is not reasonable in all of the circumstances to provide the information without the referee's consent, you should consider whether you can respond helpfully anyway (for example, by providing a summary of the content of the reference). This may protect the identity of the referee, while providing the individual with an overview of what it says about them."

If you need any more information about this or any other aspect of data protection, and to check for updates to the Good Practice Notes, contact Information Commissioner's Office; in my experience they are very helpful people.

Website -  www.ico.org.uk
Phone - 01625 545745
E-mail - [email protected]






See also

Other useful free information and easy guides to personal and organizational development, plus other writing techniques, templates, samples and examples:

  • effective writing techniques and tips
  • resignation letters examples and templates
  • complaints letters examples and templates
  • job-hunting method - very direct and adaptable
  • job adverts designing and writing - examples and templates
  • job descriptions writing tips, templates, examples and samples
  • sales introductions letters - tips, techniques, examples and templates
  • job interviews - tips, techniques, questions, answers
  • achieving personal change, developing confidence, and self-belief
  • age diversity and discrimination
  • ethical management and ethical business
  • love and spirituality in organisations

And on a lighter note an amusing letters example:



WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: How to Ask for a Reference Letter

For example, if you are writing a reference for a job applicant, some or all of these There are a number of good templates for reference letters available on.

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