How to write a recommendation letter

Recommendation letter

Your qualifications, working practices and performance – all this is documented in the recommendation letter. You receive this letter from your employer. The recommendation letter is an important document for the application. It serves as proof of your skills and as a decision-making tool for the prospective employer during the application process.

Good to know

As an employee, you have the right to receive a recommendation letter: in case of dismissal and upon request, your employer has the obligation to write a recommendation letter within four weeks.

Your letter of recommendation states things that are untrue? In case of doubt, you can take legal action. In any case, you should make sure that any misrepresentations in your recommendation letter are rectified – after all it is your performance that is at stake! Sometimes a simple petition is enough to make any changes or additions to single passages.

What does a recommendation letter look like?

When and where were you employed? What did you achieve there? A recommendation letter should contain these details. In Germany, there is a basic certificate, the so-called einfaches Zeugnis, which certifies the type of employment and its duration and is equivalent to a formal letter of recommendation. There is also a qualified certificate, qualifiziertes Arbeitszeugnis, it is more common and contains, in addition, a detailed evaluation of the aspects concerning leadership, performance and quality.

Checklist for a qualified certificate:

  • It should be printed on letter headed paper and headed with the title Zeugnis or Arbeitszeugnis.
  • It should contain the employee’s full name, date of birth and address.
  • The duration of the employment should be indicated along with the start date and dismissal date. Non-working periods due to sickness, strikes or vacation are not indicated.
  • It should contain an evaluation of the produced achievements according to quality, quantity and willingness, as well as any special or new knowledge you acquired in that job.
  • The functions and field of work should be described in detail. This is proof of your work experience (e. g. management responsibility, in-house career) and will help potential employers with their decision-making. Presenting these aspects in the form of a list is also possible.
  • It should contain the reason for the dismissal.
  • The conduct towards and the relationship with the other employees should be evaluated too.
  • It ends with a closing salutation and the signature.

What is in it?

Bad performance? This does not appear in a recommendation letter. Since the 70’s it is legally forbidden to mention the employee’s negative aspects in a recommendation letter. Since then it is only allowed to include positive statements about an employee. The consequence: personnel managers have developed their own formulaic language. This consists of standard phrasings that, depending on their nature, will allow drawing conclusions about the actual work quality and performance of the employee.

‘stets zu unserer vollen Zufriedenheit’ or ‘zu unserer vollen Zufriedenheit’ or ‘stets zu unserer Zufriedenheit’ or ‘zu unserer Zufriedenheit’ or ‘zufriedenstellend’
(‘as always carried out to our complete satisfaction’, ‘carried out to our complete satisfaction’, ‘as always carried to our satisfaction’, ‘carried out to our satisfaction’, ‘carried out satisfactorily’)

Basically: aspects that are not mentioned in a letter of recommendation are evaluated negatively rather than positively. The same applies to a non-existent letter of recommendation. You can explain the reason for a missing letter of recommendation in your cover letter.

Examples of phrasings and their meanings:

Phrasings in recommendation letters
Sein Verhältnis zu Vorgesetzten und Mitarbeitern war gleichermaßen vorbildlich
(His relation to superiors and colleagues was throughout exemplary)
Wir wünsche ihr auch in Zukunft viel Glück und Erfolg
(We wish her the best of luck and success for the future)
very good
Wir bedauern sein Ausscheiden
(We regret his departure)
good employee
Sie bemühte sich, unseren Anforderungen gerecht zu werden
(She made an effort to meet our requirements)
Er zeigte Interesse und Verständnis für seine Aufgaben
(He showed interest and understanding in regard to his tasks)
Für die Belange der Belegschaft hatte sie stets ein offenes Ohr
(She always had and open ear for employee representative the concerns of the employees)
employee representative, member of a union
Wir wünschen ihr in Zukunft eine gute Gesundheit
(We wish her good health for the future)
frequently ill
Wir haben uns im gegenseitigen Einvernehmen getrennt
(We parted we dismissed him / her by mutual agreement)
we dismissed him / her