Employment reference letter

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An employment reference letter (German: Arbeitszeugnis) is a letter from an employer about an employee's qualities, common in German-speaking countries.[1] An employment reference letter can be written by co-workers, customers, vendors and colleagues.[2] This letter can then be used to help the employee find a new job at another company. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Bulgaria are the only countries in Europe where employees can legally claim an employment reference, including the right to a correct, unambiguous and benevolent appraisal.[3] Some employers may not be willing to provide reference letters because they may be worried about potential lawsuits. In this case, the employer may only provide the job title, dates of employment and salary history for the employee.[2]


The employment reference letter can cover topics such as:[4]

  • the employee's tasks and responsibilities
  • the duration of employment or tasks/ responsibilities
  • the position relative to the author of the reference letter
  • the employee's abilities, knowledge, creativity, intelligence
  • the employee's qualifications (foreign languages, special skills)
  • the employee's social attitude
  • reason(s) of employment termination
  • some text with the actual recommendation itself (e.g. 'I unequivocally recommend ... [name] as a ... [function/ role] and would be happy to hire him/ her again').


Although some reference letters do give explicit grades on these points (e.g. excellent, good, poor), most express these in an implicit way using a unique language:[5]

  • Excellent = stets zu unserer vollsten Zufriedenheit erledigt (always done to our complete satisfaction)
  • Good = stets zu unserer vollen Zufriedenheit (always to our full satisfaction)
  • Satisfactory = zu unserer vollen Zufriedenheit (to our full satisfaction)
  • Adequate = zu unserer Zufriedenheit (to our satisfaction)
  • Poor = hat sich bemüht, den Anforderungen gerecht zu werden (has endeavored to meet the demands)

This language established itself as an unwritten code in the employment world. Its purpose was to give even weakly performing employees a letter of recommendation that does not sound negative. However, the euphemistically glazed-over descriptions are now codified and generally known, so that the original cryptic intent is no longer served. [6]

Verifying references[edit]

Most potential employers will verify the information provided in the employment reference letter. A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that eight out of ten resource professionals said they regularly conduct reference checks for professional (89 percent), executive (85 percent), administrative (84 percent) and technical (81 percent) positions.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anne Backer: Arbeitszeugnisse. Entschlüsseln und mitgestalten. 5. Auflage. Haufe, Planegg bei München 2008, ISBN 978-3-448-09313-1
  2. ^ a b Doyle, Alison. "References for employment". Retrieved 2 May 2012. 
  3. ^ Heinz-Günther Dachrodt, Erich Ullmann: Zeugnisse lesen und verstehen. Formulierungen und ihre Bedeutung. ÖGB-Verlag Wien 2000, ISBN 3-7035-0809-4
  4. ^ Peter Häusermann: Arbeitszeugnisse – wahr, klar und fair. Tipps und Anregungen für verantwortungsbewusste Arbeitgeber. 6. Auflage. Spektramedia, Zürich 2008, ISBN 978-3-908244-08-0
  5. ^ Günter Huber, Waltraud Müller: Das Arbeitszeugnis in Recht und Praxis. Rechtliche Grundlagen, Musterzeugnisse, Textbausteine, Zeugnisanalyse. 12. Auflage. Haufe, Freiburg/Breisgau, Berlin, Planegg bei München, Würzburg 2009, ISBN 978-3-448-09322-3
  6. ^ Thorsten Knobbe, Mario Leis, Karsten Umnuß: Arbeitszeugnisse: Textbausteine und Tätigkeitsbeschreibungen (dt./engl.). 5. Auflage. Haufe, Freiburg/Breisgau, Berlin, Planegg bei München, Würzburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-448-10118-8.
  7. ^ Doyle, Alison. "References - Will They or Won't They?". Retrieved 2 May 2012. 


  • Karl-Heinz List: Das zeitgemäße Arbeitszeugnis. Ein Handbuch für Zeugnisaussteller. 3. Auflage. BW Bildung und Wissen Verlag, Nürnberg 2008, ISBN 978-3-8214-7676-6.
  • Hein Schleßmann: Das Arbeitszeugnis. Zeugnisrecht, Zeugnissprache, Bausteine, Muster. 18. Auflage. Verlag Recht und Wirtschaft, Frankfurt am Main 2007, ISBN 978-3-8005-3083-0.
  • Volker Stück: Das Arbeitszeugnis. In: Monatsschrift für Deutsches Recht. 60. Jg., Bd. 2, 2006, S. 791–799.
  • Arnulf Weuster, Brigitte Scheer: Arbeitszeugnisse in Textbausteinen. Rationelle Erstellung, Analyse, Rechtsfragen. 11. Auflage. Richard Boorberg Verlag, Stuttgart, München, Hannover, Berlin, Weimar, Dresden 2007, ISBN 978-3-415-03862-2.

External links[edit]