The job reference: abc of the reference language

In Germany, around eight to nine million people change jobs each year. The path to a new, more interesting, perhaps even dream job depends not least on how the previous employer assesses your skills, performance and personality in the job reference. But it is not uncommon for disputes to arise over how to evaluate the wording in a reference. Over 30.000 lawsuits are conducted around the employer’s reference per year.

Good credentials open doors, bad ones can close them. That’s why it’s important to understand the language used in testimonials. But who knows off the top of their head whether the sentence "We got to know her as an affable colleague" is to be evaluated as a decidedly good, negative or neutral signal? And who can say for sure how the phrases "to our full satisfaction," "to our utmost satisfaction," or "always to our utmost satisfaction" are to be evaluated??

Everything about what makes a good reference, what types of references there are, how to evaluate my reference and spot hidden wording, and what to do if I don’t agree with my reference is here.

Length of employment with current employer

Employees, who do not feel well at their job, quit rather and who is limited even, remains particularly short. For whatever reason they leave the company, they all need a good reference in order to move on. This affects most people several times in their lives. In the chart on the duration of employment with the current employer, all employees 25 years and older were included.

1. As an employee, am I entitled to a reference??

Yes. The employer cannot refuse a reference. All employees have a legal right to a reference when they leave the company.

This includes:

* Temporary employees

* Pupils employed on a temporary basis,

* Employees in the public sector, unless they are civil servants.

And even those who are not taken on after the end of the probationary period are entitled to a reference. It does not matter how long the employment relationship lasted. At least a simple certificate must be issued after only a few days of work.

The legal basis for the right to a reference can be found in the German Civil Code in section 630, in the Industrial Code in section 109 and – for trainees – in the Vocational Training Act in section 16.

2. Am I also entitled to a reference as a temporary worker??

Even as a temporary employee, you have a right to a written reference from the hiring company after the end of the employment relationship.

A distinction is made between the simple and the qualified certificate. Upon request, the employer must also issue a qualified reference, which contains additional information about the performance and conduct in the employment relationship.

3. What types of employer’s reference are there?

Simple certificate: When an employment relationship is terminated, employees are entitled to a written reference. An electronic reference is not sufficient. The certificate must at least state the type and duration of the activity.

The qualified certificate: In addition, employees can request that the information also covers performance and conduct in the employment relationship, i.e. an evaluation. This is a so-called qualified certificate. However, this is not always automatic. Under certain circumstances, employees must explicitly request this.

The interim reference: Employees can always request an interim reference if they have a legitimate interest in it. In many cases, the right to a reference is already stipulated in the employment contract or in a collective agreement. A justified interest in an interim report exists if the employment relationship changes because of restructuring or if there are operational changes or if someone changes departments. Years later, the former boss may not remember the performance. Then it is good to already have an interim report in your hands. However, an interim reference can also become useful if a bad reference is suddenly issued when the employee leaves the company. With the interim reference it is easier to prove that the performance was much better at least until the change of department or until the restructuring and was rated good or very good and therefore probably cannot suddenly be much worse.

The training certificate: It is issued at the end of an apprenticeship, retraining or further vocational education.

4. What must be written in the reference?

Simple reference: A simple reference must meet the following requirements:

* It must be issued on an official company form

* It must contain a heading (e.g.B. Testimonial)

* It must be in an externally impeccable condition

* The personal details must be correct

* The duration of the employment relationship must be precisely specified

* The professional activity must be described in detail and precisely

* The professional and internal development must be presented in chronological order

* Professional training measures carried out must be listed

* The certificate must clearly state on whose initiative the employment relationship was terminated (!)

* The date of issue of the reference and the end of the employment relationship should coincide or at least be close together

* The certificate must be free of impermissible signs

* The report card must include the date and signature

Qualified certificate: A qualified reference must, in addition to the above-mentioned requirements of a simple reference (type and duration of employment), also describe the employee’s performance and conduct or. evaluate.

Important: If the employee does not request such a reference, he/she can, if he/she nevertheless receives a qualified reference, reject it and request a simple reference instead.

If the employee* demands a qualified reference and is not satisfied with the content, i.e. the evaluations in the reference, he/she cannot demand a simple reference instead.

In principle, however, it is possible to demand that the certificate issued be corrected if its content does not comply with the provisions. This claim can also be pursued in court before the labor court. In an application to the court, however, it must be formulated exactly what is to be changed and in what form.

Interim report card: It can be issued as a simple reference or as a qualified reference with the respective special features.

training certificate: The training certificate must be signed by the trainer. This also applies in the event of early termination or failure of the final examination.

The certificate can be simple or qualified (i.e. with evaluations). The simple certificate must be issued in all cases, the qualified certificate only at the request of the trainee.

The simple training certificate contains information on the type, duration and objective of the vocational training and on the skills and knowledge acquired during the training period, but no assessments. It lists in chronological order which training areas were completed and which skills and knowledge were acquired in the process. Likewise, it indicates before which professional chamber the final examination was passed. If this information is missing, it may indicate that the apprentice has not passed the examination. If the training period has been shortened due to good performance, this fact must not be omitted from the reference.

The qualified training certificate also contains information on the trainee’s performance, leadership and special technical skills.

Under certain circumstances, trainees may even request an interim certificate, for example, if the training has been discontinued, a change of training occupation or training company is planned, or the trainee is not taken on after the end of the training and has to reapply early on.

Who can help me with conflicts about the reference??

ver.di members receive free legal support and assistance in evaluating their employer’s reference. To do so, they must contact the legal protection office in the district responsible for them.

5. How can I see in my reference how my employer has evaluated me and what grade he/she has given me??

The increments in the evaluation provide information, even if they sound linguistically strange or even wrong. In a qualified work and training reference as well as an interim reference, performance (consisting of the performance characteristics of willingness to work, ability to work, working methods and work successes) and leadership are assessed. Often a summarizing overall assessment follows, a final grade.

As a rule of thumb for the satisfaction scale: threefold increases mean very good performance, twofold increases correspond to good performance, omissions are negative.

Transferred to school grades 1 to 6, the ratings mean:

Very good = 1; good = 2; satisfactory = 3; sufficient = 4; deficient = 5; insufficient = 6

Examples of evaluations:

Very Good: Has the assigned tasks "always to our fullest satisfaction" Fulfills. (3 increments: "always" and "fully" as a further increment of "fully"). Other examples of wording for a very good grade: "has always and in the very best way fulfilled our expectations"; his/her "behavior towards superiors/customers/work colleagues has always and in every way been exemplary"; "we have always been extremely satisfied with the performance"; "she has always and in the very best way fulfilled our expectations".

Good: "always to our complete satisfaction" (2 increments). Or also: "to our fullest satisfaction" (2 increments, since "fullest" is considered a further increment of "full")

Satisfactory: "to our full satisfaction" (1 increase). Or also: "always to our satisfaction" (1 increase)

Adequate: "to our satisfaction" (no increase)

Deficient: "mostly met" – The qualification "mostly" indicates poor performance ("mostly" is considered a qualification)

Unsatisfactory: "could not do justice to the assigned tasks – This formulation is a clear statement of inadequacies and certifies "insufficient performance".

6. What differentiating performance characteristics and job-related competencies belong on the job reference?? What do examples of evaluations look like?

Differentiating performance characteristics include: 1. Willingness to work, 2. Work ability, 3. Working methods (quality of work, reliability, negotiating skills, pace of work), 4. Job Accomplishments.

1. Evaluate willingness to work:

Willingness to work evaluates motivation, diligence, willingness to work, initiative, and independence.

Examples of ratings:

Very Good: "Always showed great initiative, diligence and eagerness"; "Always showed initiative and impressed with great willingness to work hard"; "Always took the initiative independently and carried out all necessary actions with determination"

Good: "always showed initiative, diligence and eagerness"; "performed all tasks with great prudence, excellent knowledge and high level of commitment"; "always had good ideas and provided valuable/further suggestions"

Satisfactory: "showed initiative, diligence, and eagerness"; "performed tasks with prudence, knowledge, and commitment"; "performed assigned tasks independently"

Adequate: "performed work/tasks in a generally prudent and dedicated manner"; "showed diligence and eagerness when given the appropriate impetus"; "performed assigned tasks under guidance"

2. Rate Work Capability:

The evaluation of work aptitude is concerned with technical knowledge, but also with comprehension, completed further training, expressiveness and the ability to work under pressure.

Examples of ratings:

Very good: "has comprehensive, sound and versatile specialist knowledge which he/she used very confidently in difficult tasks"; "mastered his/her field of work comprehensively/professionally, confidently/perfectly/excellently"; "occupies a very good, readily available specialist knowledge"

Good: "has good, sound technical knowledge and solves difficult tasks at all times"; "has thorough, assured technical knowledge and uses it confidently in difficult tasks"; "always worked confidently and independently"

Satisfactory: "had solid and usable expertise", had good experience"; "has the required expertise and used it successfully"

Sufficient: "had a solid basic knowledge of his/her field of work"; "generally mastered the requirements of his/her field of work"; "had sufficient technical knowledge

3. Evaluate method of work:

This includes the quality of work, reliability, negotiation skills, and pace of work.

Work quality (evaluation examples):

Very Good: "always worked extremely thoroughly and with great care; "worked very reliably and conscientiously; "always/always worked with the greatest accuracy and utmost care"

Good: "always worked thoroughly and with great care"; "worked reliably and conscientiously"; "always worked carefully and accurately"

Satisfactory: "worked carefully and accurately"; "met high standards with his/her work"; "the execution of his/her work met our quality standard"

Adequate: "generally worked carefully and accurately"; "the performance of his/her work generally met our quality standards"

Reliability (evaluation examples):

Very good: "was always an extremely conscientious and discreet employee"; "was always extremely reliable"; "was always extremely reliable and always conscientious."

Good: "was always a dutiful and trustworthy employee"; "was always reliable"; "always worked reliably and conscientiously"

Satisfying: "was trustworthy"; "was reliable"; "worked reliably and conscientiously":

Sufficient: "handled crucial work reliably"; "was generally a reliable collaborator"; his/her reliability was generally satisfactory"

Negotiation skills (evaluation examples):

Very Good: "was always a persuasive and adept negotiator."

Good: "was a skillful negotiator"

Satisfactory: "was quite adept at negotiating"

Sufficient: "was skilled at negotiating in general"

Work rate:

Very good: "always/always worked exceptionally quickly and expeditiously"

Good: "always worked quickly and expeditiously"

Satisfactory: "worked briskly"

Adequate: "worked consistently"

4. Evaluate work success:

This includes the amount of work, work results, and evtl. Effects on the success of the operation

Amount of work (rating examples):

Very good: "His/her workload was always far above our expectations"; "always worked in a particularly thoughtful and effective manner"; always achieved optimal solutions"

Good: "His/her workload was always above our expectations"; "always worked thoughtfully and effectively"; "always achieved good solutions"

Satisfactory: "His/her amount of work met our expectations"; "worked evenly"; "achieved satisfactory solutions"

Sufficient: "His/her quantity of work generally met our expectations"; "generally worked at a steady pace"; "His/her quality of work was generally satisfactory"


In addition to performance, the employer also evaluates leadership behavior in the qualified report card. This is rarely about the leadership role as a supervisor and in most cases about the behavior in the company, so-called soft skills. This means how someone fits into the operational order, whether he/she is friendly, cooperative, open-minded, able to take criticism from superiors, customers and colleagues. This must be exclusively about the professional situation and not about party-political, ideological and trade union orientations. References to activities in employee-oriented co-determination, such as works council, staff council, trade union representative or representative for the severely disabled, should not be included in the reference unless the employee expressly requests this. Even the mention of criminal acts does not belong in the reference, unless it is directly related to the employment relationship, is proven (for example, by court judgment, slander does not belong in the reference), of significant weight and decisive for the overall assessment.

Examples of leadership evaluations:

Very good: "Personal conduct was always absolutely exemplary and he/she was held in high regard by superiors, colleagues/colleagues and customers/customers alike"; "was always very helpful"; "was held in high regard by superiors, colleagues/colleagues (and customers/customers) alike because of his/her friendly nature and collegial attitude"

Good: "personal conduct was always impeccable/exemplary and he/she was appreciated by superiors, colleagues (and customers) alike"; "was always helpful"; "was appreciated by superiors, colleagues (and customers) alike because of his/her friendly nature and collegial attitude"

Satisfactory: "Behavior was impeccable toward superiors, colleagues (and customers)"; "His/her behavior was appreciated by superiors and colleagues."

Adequate: "Behavior towards superiors, colleagues (and customers) was polite and correct, and his/her leadership behavior gave us no cause for complaint."

Deficient: "His/her behavior was essentially impeccable"; "Behavior was impeccable toward colleagues and customers" (wording indicates problems with superiors); "Behavior was impeccable toward superiors and customers" (wording indicates problems with colleagues)

Other leadership characteristics that can be assessed are willingness to take responsibility, social behavior, compliance with regulations, and leadership qualities as a supervisor. For example, "She/he was "always particularly responsible and enjoyed our absolute trust" means a Very Good; someone was "always responsible and very trustworthy" is a Good. If a phrase reads "His/her conduct and attitude toward superiors have always been excellent," very good social behavior is attested to. Observance of regulations is considered very good if the wording is: "observed the applicable regulations in an exemplary manner and also always urged his/her colleagues to observe the safety regulations.". Very good leadership qualities are attested with the following wording: "He/she was always an excellent supervisor.".

Overall summary assessment:

There should be no contradiction between the detailed, differentiated assessment and the final overall assessment. This so-called closing formula refers to the fulfillment of tasks and expectations as a whole:

Very good: "has always covered the area of responsibility assigned to him/her to our complete satisfaction"; "his/her performance has always been very good"

Good: "has always performed the tasks assigned to him/her to our full satisfaction"; "his/her performance has always been good"

Satisfactory: "has performed the tasks assigned to him/her to our full satisfaction"; "his/her performance has always been satisfactory"

Sufficient: "has fulfilled the tasks assigned to him/her to our satisfaction"; "his/her performance has always been adequate"

Poor: "performed the duties assigned to him/her to our satisfaction on the whole"; "his/her performance was poor"

Unsatisfactory: "made an effort to complete the tasks assigned to him/her to our satisfaction"; "his/her performance was inadequate"

Job-related competencies:

An evaluation of job-specific characteristics of the specific job and industry also belongs in a good reference; such as honesty and trustworthiness in jewelry salespersons, reliability of financial accountants or the leadership style of a manager. Good references can be recognized by the fact that they describe characteristic features of the occupational activity and branch, but do not mention self-evident facts and banalities, or. emphasize. If important job-specific characteristics are not mentioned, this indicates misconduct.

Examples of job-specific features:

Educator: Expertise and willingness to learn, empathy and assertiveness, love of children, authority, confidence, creative and musical knowledge, general education, knowledge of human nature, organizational skills, ability to work under pressure

Salesperson: Expertise and willingness to continue education, flexibility, expressiveness, knowledge of human nature, service orientation, empathy, sociability, perceptiveness, business acumen, reliability, adaptability, external appearance

bank clerk: Technical knowledge and willingness for further education, mathematical knowledge, EDP knowledge, ability and willingness to make contact, manners, outward appearance, knowledge of human nature, loyalty

7. What closing formula should be in the employer’s reference?

Concluding phrases round off the reference; however, there is no legal entitlement to them. In a good reference, the former employer thanks for the work done, regrets the departure and wishes all the best for the future. Again, good ratings should follow if the job reference is good and very good if the job reference is very good.

Very good references consider four points in the final sentence: 1. Termination initiative, 2. Thanks, 3. Regret and 4. Future wishes. If a point remains unmentioned, this reduces the value of the testimonial. At the same time, it depends on the increments in the evaluations, for example, "we regret" or "we regret very much".

Examples of evaluating job references in the closing formula:

In case of very good overall evaluation: ". Leaves our company at his own request. We regret his/her decision very much, because we lose a valuable employee with him/her. We thank him/her for his/her cooperation in our company and wish him/her continued success and personally all the best."

In case of good overall evaluation: ". Leaves our company at her own request. We regret her decision, thank her for her contribution to our company and wish her continued success and all the best personally"

With an average overall rating: ". leaves our company at his own request. We thank him/her for his/her cooperation and wish him/her all the best for the future"

With sufficient overall rating: ". Is leaving our company at his or her own request. We wish her all the best for the future"

In case of poor overall evaluation: ". leaves our company at his own request. We wish him good luck for the future"

8. What are the secret codes in the employer’s reference?

Below are a few selected examples of so-called secret codes in the evaluation of job references, which are unauthorized coded messages that mean something other than what it appears at first glance:

Testimonial text: "He has specialized knowledge and shows a healthy self-confidence."

Coded message: He has little expertise and tries to hide it by being loud or by boasting.

Testimonial text: "She contributed to the improvement of the working atmosphere through her sociability"."

Message: She is prone to excessive drinking on duty.

Testimonial text: "He has solved all tasks in his and in the interest of the company."

Message: He committed theft and/or other serious improprieties.

Testimonial text: " She is committed to the interests of her colleagues inside and outside the company."

Message: She is in the works council.

Testimonial text: "He is committed inside and outside the company for the interests of the employees."

Message: He is involved in the union.

Testimonial text: "She had the opportunity to acquire the necessary knowledge.

Message: However, she did not take advantage of the opportunity.

Testimonial text: "He worked with the greatest accuracy."

message: He was a slow, pea-counting, inflexible pedant.

Testimonial text: "In her dealings with colleagues and superiors, she consistently displayed a refreshing openness."

Message: She was cheeky and did not let anyone tell her anything.

Testimonial text: "He carried out his tasks with his usual diligence."

Message: Chaos was normality with him.

Testimonial text: "She delegated her tasks with full success."

Message: She was a shirker.

Testimonial text: "He showed understanding of the work involved."

Message: He is a loser and lazy.

9. Who helps me with conflicts about the employer’s reference?

An initial self-assessment is important to anticipate hidden wording. But how do I evaluate my reference? Numerous guides and websites can help with this. However, they are no substitute for expertise and a lawyer, no matter how dazzling they come across. In the event of dubious wording or even conflicts, employees need competent help from experts.

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