Write your own reference: a tightrope walk with potential

"Write down what you have done so far!" – this saying has always come from my various superiors when it came to a reference. The first time I thought it was funny: Didn’t the boss know what I had done all those years ..? Yes, he already knew (something like that, anyway …& ). But bosses like to delegate. Also job references.

Write your own reference – advantage for you

When it comes to listing your tasks and projects as part of a job reference, this is in principle a good thing: you can influence the compilation, emphasis and wording yourself so that it gives you the greatest possible advantage for future job applications.

After several job changes and interim references in recent years, I now feel it is normal to describe my tasks in the reference itself. But it can also happen that you have to write the whole job reference yourself – so also the complete evaluation part. It may seem strange at first, but it can bring you additional opportunities!

How to write your own reference?

First of all, it is not wrong to see this opportunity as a certain sign of confidence: The superior assumes your realistic self-assessment. Now, of course, you first need some orientation as to how such a reference should be structured and what needs to be taken into account. Because even small differences in wording are often bigger than you first think. Especially since even poorer evaluations are often "benevolently" paraphrased, while good grades are flaunted with superlatives. But more about that below at point 5.

1. Introduction and basic data

After the heading "Job reference" you list your data: Name, date of birth, place of birth, periods of employment in the company and job title. For example: "Mr First name Last name, born on 1. January 19xx, was from 1. November 2016 to 30. September 2019 in our company as Job title Working."

2. Optional: Company description

Many companies like to integrate a paragraph with a company description under the introduction in references. However, it is rather the smaller and not so well-known companies for which this practice is suitable. My previous employers include z. B. Deutsche Bahn and Telekom – giants like these don’t need a description because everyone knows them. The best thing to do is to ask the personnel department how this is handled in the specific case and, if necessary, have them tell you. deliver something. You don’t have to invent anything yourself here, this part is supposed to be consistent after all!

3. Career path

Write down which position you held. If you have been with the company for a long time, the position may have changed more than once. List then best the positions with time data under each other.

4. Job description

List your various tasks in one or two sentences. What responsibilities did you have in general? Below you can list (also in bullet points) special, larger and successful individual projects with individual components.

5. Performance and social behavior

In this section, you evaluate yourself on your work ethic and aptitude, expertise, work ethic, work performance, and behavior toward supervisors. Here, generally understandable statements should be made with the usual building blocks, which are ultimately Translate into school grades leave. This way you can see whether you have done your job very well, well or only to some extent.

Formulation modules such as the following examples are common for this purpose. The order is not mandatory and can vary. Two important points in advance:

a) Please note that these are only examples. If you google the internet for formulation modules, you will find different variants – but the principle is always very similar.

b) Please note that formulations from grade 4 can be problematic with regard to the trade regulations. You will hardly rate yourself badly, but in general with regard to job references it is good to know that employers can be obliged to prove this in case of dispute. In addition, the clausulated text modules can be evaluated in such cases as forbidden reference codes, if from the wording the actually negative assessment is not clearly recognizable (hidden devaluation).

But now to the evaluation fields.


Grade 1: … always a very high willingness to perform.

Grade 2: … always a high willingness to perform.

Grade 3: … showed commitment.

Grade 4: … also showed a willingness to work hard.

Grade 5: (information is omitted.)

Other frequently used terms: initiative, dedication, commitment, ..


This is about general, non-discipline-specific qualities such as resilience, flexibility, and judgment.

Grade 1: … very high(er) resilience / flexibility / judgement

Grade 2: … high level of resilience / flexibility / judgment

Grade 3: … demonstrated resilience and flexibility

Grade 4: … had sufficient knowledge.

Grade 5: The indispensable requirements for this function included qualities such as ability to work under pressure, flexibility, …, ..

Exactly which general characteristics are listed depends on you and your position. You can also add more qualities in a second sentence ("Particularly noteworthy are …). Suitable for highlighting – apart from those already mentioned above – are, for example, points such as commitment, organizational talent, comprehension, reliability, willingness to cooperate, empathy. For what did you receive special praise? What particularly advanced the company / the respective department? What do colleagues and superiors appreciate you for?? This makes your reference more individual, authentic and credible. These points can alternatively be mentioned further below (see point "work success"). However, does not list too much, but only the relevant or. particularly pronounced points. And above all, leave out obvious things like punctuality – after all, you have more to offer!


This is about position-specific knowledge and its application results.

Grade 1: Due to his/her extensive and particularly well-founded specialist knowledge, he/she always achieved well above-average successes.

Grade 2: He/she continuously applied his/her good technical knowledge with great success in the field of work.

Grade 3: He/she has a solid working knowledge of his/her area of expertise.

Grade 4: … possesses the required technical knowledge.

Grade 5: He/she demonstrated the necessary expertise in dealing with the tasks assigned to him/her and repeatedly applied it in a promising manner.

Working method

Grade 1: … always extremely efficient, diligent and independent

Grade 2: … always efficient, careful and self-reliant

Grade 3: … independently, efficiently and carefully

Grade 4: … with care and accuracy

Grade 5: Tasks were generally performed with care and accuracy.

Other frequently used terms: brisk, goal-oriented, reliable, purposeful, conscientious, sense of responsibility, ..

Work success

Grade 1: … consistently delivered very good work results and always met and usually exceeded goals, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Grade 2: … always delivered good work results and always achieved and often exceeded goals, even under difficult circumstances.

Grade 3: … delivered good work results and met agreed-upon objectives.

Grade 4: … has achieved the objectives to a satisfactory degree.

Grade 5: … always made an effort to achieve the given goals.

Successes can also be specified here depending on the industry and the function. For example, "achieved above-average customer satisfaction". Optionally, you can also name individual successful projects here.

Optional: Leadership performance

Grade 1: He/she has very good leadership skills and always motivated his/her employees to perform at a very high level. He/she delegated tasks and responsibilities in a goal-oriented manner.

Grade 2: He/she convinced his/her co-workers and encouraged collaboration. He/she informed his/her team, encouraged further training, delegated tasks and responsibilities and thus achieved a high departmental result.

Grade 3: He/She led his/her employees purposefully and consistently to fully satisfactory performance.

Grade 4: He/she used employees properly according to their abilities and motivated them appropriately.

Grade 5: He/she was always aware of the special responsibility that comes with a leadership assignment. He/she expected employees to be fully engaged at all times.

Performance summary

Grade 1: … always to our complete satisfaction

Grade 2: … always to our complete satisfaction

Grade 3: … to our full satisfaction

Grade 4: … to our satisfaction

Grade 5: … usually to our satisfaction

Behavior towards colleagues and superiors

Grade 1: … exemplary at all times

Note 2: … faultless at all times

Grade 3: … faultless

Grade 4: … correct and without complaint

Grade 5: It is unnecessary to emphasize that his/her conduct towards superiors and colleagues was unimpeachable.

Other frequently used terms: Loyalty, trustworthiness, ..

6. Reason for leaving

Write down the date of your departure as well as the reason for your departure from the company. Perhaps the company cannot continue to employ you for economic / "operational" or company-political reasons. Or a fixed-term contract expires as scheduled ("… will end his employment in our company at the end of the agreed period" / "… will leave as of today after the expiration of the fixed-term contract"). Or of course, you "leave the company at your own request". In the case of the classic "dismissal" (which we now tend to assume is not the case), the reason in the reference can be omitted and the date of departure is sufficient.

7. Expression of regret and thanks for your cooperation

Important is the expression of the regret on the part of the company about your departure connected with the thanks for your achievements. This makes it clear that you parted on good terms with your employer. Also in this once again an evaluation. For example:

Grade 1: We very much regret his/her departure and thank him/her for the always very good performance.

Grade 2: We regret his/her departure and thank him/her for always performing well.

Grade 3: We regret his/her departure and thank him/her for the good performance.

Grade 4: We thank him/her for his/her cooperation.

Grade 5: (Here the point is omitted; no regret or thanks are expressed …)

8. Good wishes for the future

You have already guessed it: The very last evaluation can be hidden in the wishes for success in the future. We wish him/her all the best in his/her future career and life ..

Grade 1: … all the best and continued success.

Note 2: … all the best and continued success.

Grade 3: … all the best and success.

Grade 4: We wish him/her all the best for the future.

Grade 5: We wish him/her all the best, especially success in further endeavors.

9. Date and signature

Finally, put the date and a line for the employer’s signature below it. Complete the supervisor’s or manager’s name with his/her title.

Glasses are placed on a job reference, of which the upper part of the text is legible

Caution, trap: The formulations in the reference are to be weighed finely.

How much (self) praise is allowed?

Admittedly: It’s tempting to just give yourself a grade of 1 everywhere you go. But keep in mind: In the end, the boss will probably still have the last word. If you are unsure about some points, take the better grade first. In case of doubt, the supervisor is then required to justify a deviation downwards.

Keep in mind, however, that a string of very good elements does not necessarily have an authentic effect. If you have to write your own reference, you should keep a professional distance and ask yourself how the wording will appear to third parties. And it is equally important to make an individual reference to oneself, one’s work and special strengths. Particularly suitable for this are the job description, the point "ability" and examples of success in "work success".

How long may a reference be?

This depends a little on your length of service in the respective company and the associated length in the enumeration of your various activities. Normally, the reference should fit on one page, but in the case of long-term cooperation it can also be somewhat longer. Three pages for a three-month internship would probably be exaggerated and untrustworthy.

Tips to finish:

  • Help from the personnel department:
    Perhaps the personnel department of your employer also has a kind of template in which the structure is already recognizable and on the basis of which you can create your content. Feel free to ask!
  • Reference generators ..
    … such as this one can certainly serve as a basis, as long as they can be filled in as individually as possible. Have you already gained experience with such tools, if you should write your job reference yourself?? Then write with pleasure a comment to it!
  • Have a reference cross-checked:
    Even those who have intensively studied the language of references and the meaning of individual phrases can quickly formulate a misleading passage without thinking it through. Because as already described: In addition to the general formulations mentioned above, there are of course other variants in circulation. And there can also be industry-specific differences. If in doubt, it makes sense to have your reference checked by an expert – a human resources professional in your circle of acquaintances, a reputable provider on the Internet or a professional career consultant. The latter, of course, cost a few euros, but they are often well invested.

So, let’s get started – good luck!

  • #Certificate

Thomas Horn

Everything to do with the written word – that’s Thomas’ job at the Institute for Vocational Education (IBB). Tasks range from product and online communications to press/PR support. Thomas also creates brochures, flyers, other print materials and whatever else is needed.

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