The employer’s reference is one of the most important documents and can be decisive for the course of your professional career. Therefore, it should be well worded, free of errors and visually appealing. Not every formulation that appears positive at first glance convinces a personnel manager of the applicant’s qualities. An employer’s reference should therefore be examined carefully and if inconsistencies, unfavorable formulations or errors are found, changes should be requested.
Why is a uniform and logical structure important??
There is no DIN standard for a job reference, but the structure is now standardized. / Photo: undrey / fotolia.com
There is no DIN standard for a job reference, but the structure is now standardized. A qualified reference should therefore contain the following points:
- Entry formula
- Short info about the company
- Activity description
- Assessment of performance
- Employee behavior, leadership qualities
- Assessment of behavior
- Reason for termination of employment
- Closing formula
- Signature of the certificate issuer with date
This setup is valid regardless of the job you are doing. The order should be followed by every recruiter, as mixing up individual areas can be interpreted as a criticism of the employee’s performance or personality.
Which formulation errors can turn a good report card into a bad one?
It often happens without intention that mistakes creep into the job reference. If the name of the coworker is wrongly written or the period of the employment is incorrectly represented, this is noticeable fast when looking through the testimony. In this case, it is sufficient to simply ask for correction.
However, incorrect information can have serious consequences for the employee. The absence of even a few words can turn a good reference into a bad one. Therefore, each employee should read the report carefully and, if necessary, ask the personnel manager to make changes. A legal claim exists in the case of incorrect information, for example, if the period of employment, the field of activity or personal data are described incorrectly. However, when evaluating job performance and behavior, the employer’s assessment is decisive.
Recognize unfavorable formulations
In the case of unfavorable formulations, seek a discussion with the supervisor or the personnel manager. / Photo: baranq / fotolia.com
Since unfavorable wording has a significant impact on further career development, it is advisable to seek a discussion with the employee’s supervisor and the human resources manager. Passive formulations such as "the employee was used" describe a lack of initiative in a reference and indicate low motivation. The job description should always be arranged hierarchically and start with the most important tasks. If less important tasks are placed in the foreground, this represents a devaluation of performance. The use of terms such as "persistent" or "ambitious" are regarded as evidence of a lack of social competence or a lack of aplomb.
Evaluation of key qualifications
A good reference will contain an evaluation of key qualifications, for example, if a customer consultant’s analytical and conceptual thinking and judgment, coordination skills and ability to develop customer-specific solutions are mentioned positively.
In addition, special knowledge and successfully completed further training should also be described and mentioned in relation to the activity. However, not every advanced training is also useful. An exaggerated reference ("he took advantage of every opportunity for further training") does not praise interest and motivation to learn, but criticizes a low sense of duty and a lack of responsibility.
The use of restrictive adverbs such as often, sometimes, repeatedly or regularly also devalues performance and employees. In a qualified reference successes are described concretely. The employee is certified as having improved processes or successfully completed projects as a result of his or her efforts. In the report card language, make the evaluation of performance that "meets very high standards (grade four!) or "met the requirements to a very high degree" (grade one) makes a big difference.
Grading of the behavior evaluation changed
If an employer’s reference states that the employee took advantage of every available opportunity to expand his or her expertise, this indicates interest at first glance, because not every opportunity is useful and leaving the workplace unnecessarily is considered a sign of a lack of willingness to perform. Those who leave a company to "take on a more senior task" in a new environment were not valued in the current company and were assigned to activities with little responsibility. When assessing behavior, superiors and colleagues should be mentioned in the hierarchical order.
However, if an employee is certified that "his behavior toward colleagues and superiors has always been impeccable," this indicates problems with the supervisor. In the standards of certificate writing, the behavioral assessment has been downgraded by one grade in each case in recent years. Until then, "Conduct was always impeccable" was considered a conduct evaluation with a grade of 1 (now: grade 2) and the description "Conduct was impeccable" (without "always") meant grade 2 (now: grade 3).
An important point is the note, for which reason the employment relationship was terminated. Reasons for dismissal are often hidden here, which lie in the misconduct of the employee. In this context, the phrase "we thank" (instead of "we thank the employee") is understood rather pejoratively. The section wishing for the future and success should therefore not contain any cuts such as the omission of the good wishes for the further professional and private life path. This indicates conflicts. Also the final sentence "We wish him all the best, in particular also success." indicates that the activity in the company was not very successful.
Date of issue must coincide with the end of the employment relationship
Delayed issuance of a reference indicates litigation, while early issuance indicates a leave of absence. / Photo: Syda Productions / fotolia.com
The date of issue of an employer’s reference should always coincide with the last working day or, better, with the end of the employment relationship. Delayed issuance of a reference indicates litigation, while early issuance indicates a leave of absence. The signature "Yours sincerely" in an employer’s reference is a serious stylistic deficiency. The status of the signatory is considered a measure of esteem. Therefore, in addition to the signature by name, the position of the signatory (managing director, human resources manager) should not be omitted.
Which phrases are legally even questionable?
The choice of words contributes decisively to the quality of an employer’s reference. While some descriptions are merely poorly chosen, some phrases are even legally questionable. This also includes the so-called "eloquent silence". Here, the employer simply omits certain attributes from the performance review. If the word "dedicated" is missing, it means the employee was unmotivated.
Examples of poor wording that lead to professional disadvantages for the employee abound. A sales representative who was "popular with customers" has no negotiating skills at all. An employee who "performed his duties properly" did not show performance. The employee who "solved the tasks in his and the company’s interest" has stolen from the employer. The employee was "always punctual and honest," but otherwise did not perform at all.
The formulation sovereignty of the employer
An incomplete or unfair evaluation does not have to be accepted. / Photo: Tiko / fotolia.com
If the employment relationship is terminated with an unusual date, this indicates a termination without notice. Usually an employment relationship is started and terminated at the end of the month or in the middle of the month. In the preparation of a reference, the employer has the sovereignty of formulation. It can therefore not be prescribed to the personnel manager, which formulations he should use or omit. However, the employer is obliged to evaluate the performance truthfully and completely.
If important components such as the assessment of readiness for work are missing from a reference, the employer should be approached immediately and asked for an appropriate addition to be made. An incomplete or unfair evaluation does not have to be accepted. However, it should be clarified before a personnel interview whether a certain formulation is also a devaluation. The request for change is then formulated in writing. If the employer refuses to reformulate the reference, an attorney for labor law can be hired.
What can you do if you have an employer’s reference that contains errors?
If the employer shows no intention of correcting the reference after a personal discussion, a specialist lawyer for labor law can be called in. In this case, a correction of the work certificate is sued in the labor court. / Photo: vege / fotolia.com
If incorrect information is noticed in a job reference, it is important to act as quickly as possible. In the event of a request for correction, the law allows a period of three years, but the reference is usually used to apply for a new job and must therefore be correct.
After the three-year period has expired, there is no longer any legal entitlement to a change in the reference. However, the deadline may expire sooner if, for example, the company becomes insolvent and no longer exists. Even if it is not possible for the employer to issue a truthful reference to the employee for other reasons, the duty to correct does not apply. This is the case, for example, if the supervisor, who is able to assess the employee’s performance, leaves the company in the meantime. If the employer shows no intention of correcting the reference after a personal interview, a specialist lawyer for employment law can be called in. In this case, a correction of the work certificate is sued in the labor court.