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How to Write a Reference for an Employee

References may be less common now but they can still have a huge impact on employees and their chances of securing employment.

Though they may not be widely used, references remain one of the best pre-employment checks your business can make. More than that, they are one of the best things you can do for an employee that’s had to leave through no fault of their own or feels ready for a big step.

It is also important that references can be asked for by certain companies, such as those in the public sector, even if it is oral. With platforms such as LinkedIn around, you can also provide references easily. But how to write one why?

Read on to find out how to write a reference for an employee with eCo2 Greetings

What is an employee reference?

Employee references are the positive or negative comments you make about an employee’s job performance provided to a potential new employer.

In most cases, a prospective employer will contact a potential new hire’s current or former employer to seek references as part of the hiring process for a new position. As you may have done yourself, prospective employers check references during the interview process in order to ensure that a candidate’s claims about their job skills and experience are accurate.

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References can be one of the most important parts of the hiring process because they can provide valuable information. They can set one candidate apart from the other and can provide a sound hiring decision.

The Legal Position

An employer doesn’t usually have to give a work reference for a current or former employee. However, if they do, it must be fair and accurate. Employees may be able to challenge a reference if they think it is unfair or misleading.

Employers must give a reference if:

  • There was a written agreement to do so in a contract of employment
  • Their business sits in a regulated industry, like financial services

If you do give a reference, it must be:

  • Fair and accurate. It can include details about workers’ performance and if they were sacked
  • Can be brief, such as their job title, salary and when they were employed

If an employee thinks they’ve been given an unfair or misleading reference by you or another employer, they may be able to claim damages in court. A previous employer must be able to back up the reference they have given. They can do this with examples of warning letters.

How can you handle references?

If you’re planning to check references for potential employees, you should always start by stating this to applicants in your advert.

There are two kinds of references you can ask for – professional references from past or current employers and character references. Character references should always come from someone with a credible profession, such as a lecturer.

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Whatever you do, you need to treat the job applicant with consideration. What we mean here is that many job applicants prefer that their current employer not know about them applying for other jobs until it’s absolutely necessary. Essentially, when you offer them the job.

This means that you should only approach the applicant’s current employer after getting their permission to do so. You should, therefore, make it clear at what stage of your recruitment process references will be contacted. This is usually done after the job offer has been made.

Read more: Best Ways for Businesses to Communicate

Finally, you should never let references influence job interviews – this is why you should seek them after the interview stage. Reading a reference before an interview could easily taint your impression of a job candidate. So, leave reading references for afterwards.

Why should I write a reference for an employee?

There can be numerous reasons for giving a reference when an employee is leaving your business. Mainly, they can help you maintain working relationships with talented staff.

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A staff member may be leaving to push themselves, see an unmissable opportunity or have been let go through no fault of their own. You may have been forced to make redundancies even if you may not see it as long term.

A reference can be brief, simply stating the basics of the person’s former job at your business. Alternatively, it can provide plenty of detail in it that gives the new hirer an idea of the sort of person they’ll be adding to their workforce. It could be more about their character.

Read more: Protecting Employee Mental Wellbeing at Christmas

You should also remember that ending on good terms with an employee can be promising for the future. When you write a positive reference for an employee, you’re showing them that you endorse them and their abilities as they take their next career step. By doing so, you preserve the possibility that your former employee might return with more skills and experience to add value to your business.

Do I have to provide a reference for an employee?

No, you don’t have to provide a reference for an outgoing or former employee.

There are numerous reasons for not providing a reference. These can include:

  • You aren’t comfortable doing so if they’re leaving
  • If you don’t think you’d be able to give a positive recommendation
  • You may not know the person well enough to do so

When you turn down someone’s request for a reference, be polite. Apologise and explain why you won’t do it. Be sure to avoid making your refusal sound like personal criticism.

How do I write or give an employee reference?

As it’s the 21st century, you may not be asked for a ‘letter’, a statement by email or an oral reference may be asked for.

When it comes to beginning your reference, you need to lay out what you want to include. The same points should always be made for any employee, whether they’re leaving soon or someone who worked for your business years ago. You can include:

  • Job title
  • Salary
  • Dates of employment with your business
  • Job performance
  • Responsibilities in their role
  • Professional conduct
  • How they left your business – if they have yet – whether they resigned, redundancy or you dismissed them

To help you write your reference, have an updated version of the employee’s CV to hand. This will make it easier to give specific examples of your employee’s goals, targets and achievements. The same can be said for referring to their new job description. This will help you structure your reference with information which is relevant.

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Once you’ve covered off important professional details, like experience, achievements and suitability for the new role, try to include more personal details. So, talk about their character. This is a thoughtful touch and will help a new company decide if they’ve found the right cultural fit with this employee. You can consult their colleagues for additional help.

Finally, you should always include your contact details. This allows you to be thorough if your reference has raised points which may warrant further discussion with the employer.

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