Writing a Reference for an Employee

If you have ever had employees, chances are that you have been or will be called for job reference checks, so you need to know how to give a good job reference. Knowing what constitutes a good job reference can not only provide protection to both you and your former employee, but you can maintain valuable connections.

Plan Ahead: When asked for a reference for a job over the phone, consider what you are going to say carefully before you speak. You do not want to say something that might be taken out of context or misinterpreted. After all, what you say might influence someone's career path.

Stick to the Facts: Whether answering questions over the phone or writing job reference letters, it is important to be factual. Opinions without facts are not only inappropriate, but your opinions may also get you into legal hot water. Feel free to provide to provide factual information, such as hiring dates, promotions, awards and titles.

Avoid Generalities: Saying something along the lines of "she was a great employee" doesn't really say anything specific about your former employee. It is much better to give examples of why you think your formal employee was terrific.

Know How to Discuss Negatives: If you are asked about negatives or feel that you need to talk about your former employee's downsides, negatives are best expressed in terms of "incidents" rather than "opinions." For example, "Joe is always late" is an opinion. However, "Joe was late ten days during the month of October" is a fact. In addition, if you dislike the person involved, keep your personal feelings to yourself. This is about job performance, not a personality contest.

Certain issues are completely out-of-bounds, such as age, religion and race. If you have any concerns or confusion about this, consult with your human resources department before providing a reference.

Keep Good Records: It is always smart to keep notes if you are giving a job reference over the phone. It goes without saying that you should keep copies of any job reference letters that you mail.

Giving a job reference makes you a powerful person. Remember that what you say can make a huge difference in your former employee's future. Be factual, be careful and be honest.

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