Letter of Recommendation

When you leave a position to head towards a new job your potential employer is interested in knowing how and what your last position was. Germans use a letter of recommendation. Watch it! The wording in such letters are only formulas having a hinted meaning! Everything must sound good – even though the employer kicked you out.


I am getting things together for my new job and I am curious about what a reference letter looks like.

Oh, this is just a piece of paper with a lot of ink on it showing a bunch of funny figures. No, just kidding. This is a report on your performance as an employee. It is usually written on the company’s letterhead and to be personally signed by the employer using document proof ink (§109 III GewO). If it is folded, then the folds are not to be seen on copies.  

How am I supposed to read in this reference letter? What is in the contents?

This letter shows what kind of employee you were – without explicitly saying anything bad about you. There are two kinds of certificates: the “simple” and the “comprehensive”. All certificates must contain the employee details: (first, middle, maiden, last name, academic title, address, birth date and birth place) and the company details (name and address), letterhead requirements.

The simple certificate contains furthermore an explicit and exact job description, as well as duration of employment. The reason why the job ended is required only upon demand of the employee.
The qualified reference also contains an evaluation on your performance and conduct. Generally, the wording is in discretion of the employer, however he is restricted to using formal customary wordings that include certain (typically polite) phrases which have implicit certain meanings. Over the years, a certain code has been developed.
At the end of a reference letter, it is customary to express one’s regret that the employee is leaving, to thank the employee for the services rendered and to wish the employee all the best for his future endeavors.  However, such final phrase is not required.

Reference Letter:   Phrasing Overview on Performance

stets (jederzeit, immer) zu unserer vollsten Zufriedenheit“
excellent performance

„zu unserer Zufriedenheit“

a still average performance
„hat sich bemüht“
insufficient or poor performance

Reference Letter: Phrasing on Working Habits

“mit äußerster Sorgfalt und großer Genauigkeit“ excellent
„mit großer Sorgfalt und Genauigkeit“ good
„mit Sorgfalt und Genauigkeit“ satisfactory
wordings below this standard are either average or poor

Reference Letter: Description of Conduct

Working success and working manner will usually be worded that execution of given tasks were

„sein Verhalten gegenüber Vorgesetzten und Mitarbeitern war stets einnwandfrei / vorbildlich“ “his behavior vis-à-vis superiors and colleagues was always impeccable / exemplary”
„sein Verhalten gegenüber Vorgesetzten und Mitarbeitern war einnwandfrei / vorbildlich“ “his behavior vis-à-vis superiors and colleagues was impeccable/exemplary” (good)
„sein Verhalten war gut“ his behavior was good” (satisfactory)
„stets befriedigend“ "always satisfactory" (average)


Structure of Contents

Following structure is common:

  1. employer’s letterhead,
  2. title (final or interim report),
  3. introduction (personal data of employee),
  4. duration of employment (apprenticeship times, longer interrupts),
  5. description of position (employee’s duties and rights, place in hierarchy), career development,
  6. performance description, (evaluation of performance / ability / willingness / success or expectation of employer, summary),
  7. evaluation of leadership (for superiors),
  8. description of conduct,
  9. termination modalities (left upon his will/after completion of project),
  10. regards,
  11. signer (place, date, signature).

Additional information