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Qualified job reference: content, wording, sample

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In contrast to the “simple job reference”, the “qualified job reference” contains an assessment and assessment of the employee's performance and social behavior. In addition to important soft skills, this also includes behavior towards superiors, colleagues and customers. In this order. You should always ask for a qualified job reference when you terminate an employment relationship. In addition to a cover letter and curriculum vitae, it is an essential entry ticket to a new job as objective evidence of your previous work. Here we show you what you have to look out for with a qualified job reference, what requirements you have in terms of structure, content, form, language and grades, how you apply for the certificate and, if necessary, request correction ...

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

➠ Content: This is what awaits you

What is a qualified job reference?

For personnel decision-makers, the job reference is an important and neutral proof of the suitability of an applicant. The previous performance is assessed by a previous employer - in black and white, as an official company document with a signature. Its statement is correspondingly heavy. A specific type of job reference is understood as a qualified job reference. In fact, there is not just ONE job reference in Germany, but three forms. Labor lawyers and HR professionals differentiate between these types of employment references:

  • Simple job reference
    Contains only factual and objectively verifiable facts: What did the employee do from when to when? Has the task been accomplished? What other tasks did he take on? - More about it HERE
  • Qualified job reference
    In addition to the factual facts, it also contains an assessment of the employee's performance and social behavior. - More about it HERE
  • Interim report
    Exists as a simple or qualified certificate and is issued during the employment relationship. Mostly because the previous superior is changing or for "good reason". - More about it HERE

Entitlement: When does the employer have to issue the certificate?

As soon as the employment relationship ends - whether voluntary or not -, employees are entitled to a written job reference according to Section 109, Paragraph 2 of the Industrial Code (GewO). This entitlement is independent of whether it was previously an internship, a position as a working student, a trainee position or a permanent position.

The legal right to a job reference is, however, a double-edged sword: it also means that in case of doubt you can (should) prove all previous professional positions with a reference. Many employers expect this when applying.

Failure to do so raises doubts about your suitability or honesty. The meaning of the qualified job reference is therefore similar to that of the curriculum vitae. It is an elementary part of your application documents.

If you want to exercise your right to a qualified job reference, you shouldn't wait too long: the entitlement expires three years after the end of the employment relationship.

In fact, this is the worker's debt to collect. As a future ex-employee, you must be the employer active ask for a qualified job reference and apply for it. Only then is the boss obliged to issue one. However, he does not have to do this of his own accord without prior request.

Application for a qualified job reference: example

You should always formulate the certificate request in writing. Ideally with a lead time of three to four weeks before the employment relationship ends. A simple two-line line is sufficient for the application. Here is an example formulation:

Dear sir __________,

I hereby politely ask for a qualified job reference to be issued for my employment from DD.MM.YYYY to DD.MM.YYYY.

Best Regards

Unfortunately, there is still no legally binding regulation on how quickly the job reference must be issued. Lawyers only speak of an "appropriate" exhibition time. So if you have left the company for a long time and have still not received a qualified certificate, you can put pressure on it. But please always in writing so that you can prove this later.

Formalities: What must a qualified job reference contain?

The qualified job reference never gives a negative impression - neither in form nor in content. In this context, labor lawyers speak of the “duty of benevolence”. The trade regulations (GewO) already stipulate that a (qualified) job reference must meet two conditions:

  • The certificate must true be.
  • The certificate must benevolent be.

The wording of the GewO says: “The certificate must be formulated in a clear and understandable manner. It must not contain any features or formulations that have the purpose of making a statement about the employee other than that which is evident from the external form or the wording to obstruct another workplace.

Obligations to give evidence: Further formal requirements

In addition, a correctly qualified job reference must meet these formal requirements:

  • The qualified job reference must printed on company paper to be issued. An exhibition in electronic form (e.g. as an e-mail) is not permitted.
  • You are entitled to one error-free documentthat you in good and good condition is passed. You can request a correction in the case of kinks, impermissible special characters or spelling errors.

Structure, language and content

Unfortunately, the exact content and structure of a qualified job reference is not regulated by law. So there are regular disputes between employees and employers before the labor court. However, qualified job references should follow this typical scheme:

Development of a qualified job reference

➠ Letterhead including employer information
➠ Headline ("job reference")
➠ Master data (first name, surname, type of employment & duration)
➠ length of employment
➠ Job description
performance evaluation

- Assessment of willingness to work
- Evaluation of the working method
- Assessment of professional competence
- Special tasks and achievements

Behavioral assessment

- Evaluation of social behavior
- Conduct towards superiors, colleagues, customers
- Assessment of possible leadership skills

➠ Termination of the employment relationship (reason for leaving)
➠ Closing formula & wishes for the future
➠ Place, date, signature

Specifically, the result looks like this, for example:

Please note: By omitting certain passages or ratings, employers can express hidden criticism of the employee's performance. With a qualified job reference, you should therefore always pay attention to the sequence of the contents and their completeness.

Sample for a qualified job reference

You can - if you wish - edit the following template for a qualified job reference right here online in the browser, reformulate it and then copy it, for example to print it out. Simply click on the box:


Ms. Muster, born on DD.MM.YYYY, worked as a geriatric nurse from DD.MM.YYYY to DD.MM.YYYY.

Schöne Leben GmbH is dedicated to looking after and caring for those in need of care. Our family-run hotel has existed since YYYY and has 70 care places.

Ms. Muster's tasks included looking after the residents of our facility, who are dependent on support in everyday life:

  • Carry out personal hygiene and / or help with it
  • Providing residents with meals
  • Attracting the residents
  • Conducting and participating in nursing rounds
  • Care documentation
  • Dealing with administrative procedures
  • Accompaniment during visits to the doctor
  • Change of associations
  • Administration of medication
  • Psychosocial care for residents
  • Maintaining contact with relatives of the residents
  • Collaboration in quality management

Ms. Muster always carried out her work independently and on her own responsibility. She was subordinate to the care service management and the residential area management. She brought her extensive special skills to the care of disoriented residents and residents suffering from dementia (insert example of specialist knowledge here).

Ms. Muster is characterized by exceptional reliability, great care and efficiency. In addition, she has a very high work ethic, which she demonstrated at all times by taking on additional shifts or other - even difficult - work.

During her work in our facility, Ms. Muster has continuously trained with great success and implemented what she has learned in an excellent manner. Her behavior towards superiors and colleagues was always impeccable. Ms. Muster always carried out the tasks assigned to her to our complete satisfaction.

Ms. Muster leaves us at her own request. We regret losing an excellent specialist and valued colleague with her and thank her for her exemplary work in our care facility. We wish her continued success and all the best for her personal and professional future.

Place, date, signature

Download qualified job reference: Free sample

You can also download the qualified job reference here as a sample and Word file free of charge. Please note that these templates are for inspiration only if you - at the employer's request - should write your reference work yourself.

Download sample certificate (WORD)

Formulations: grades in the qualified job reference

The formulations in job references are sometimes complicated, subtle, cryptic. Secret codes have long been established in the reference language, which HR managers pay attention to and thus draw conclusions about the overall assessment of a candidate. These certificate codes hide school grades, but in some cases also tangible allusions and (actually illegal) criticism, which is why there are regular disputes in the performance evaluation and personal assessment by the ex-employer. Quite a few seemingly friendly formulations signal to the next HR manager: "Warning, this employee is not the brightest candle on the cake!"

We clarify - and start with the school grades from 1 to 6. In contrast to the school report, the grades in the qualified job reference are linguistically described. Usually this is done using words and adverbs such as “always”, “anytime”, “very”, “always” or “to the fullest”. Examples of typical certificate grades and their wording are:

He / she fulfilled his / her duties ...

  • ... always to the fullest satisfaction.
    = Very good (1)
  • ... to the fullest / always to the full satisfaction.
    = Good (2)
  • ... to full satisfaction.
    = Satisfactory (3)
  • …to satisfaction.
    = Sufficient (4)
  • ... by and large to our satisfaction.
    = Poor (5)
  • He / she made an effort.
    = Unsatisfactory (6)

If these adverbs and adjectives are missing or if they are replaced by vague formulations, the statement has a rather derogatory function. The alarm bells should ring for you when, for example, you read phrases such as: “by and large”, “as a rule”, “often,“ mostly ”. Even if things are taken for granted - for example: "He always showed up for work on time" - that is by no means a good sign.

Job reference formulations: 200 codes decoded

The most important negative messages and secret codes in job references - and what they really mean.

➠ Performance appraisal
➠ behavioral assessment
➠ Closing formula

Download here for free:

Download secret codes in the job reference

Other secret codes also hide negative evaluations of the employee's work or behavior. Examples of this are the following formulations (with translation):

performance evaluation

  • "It quickly became popular with customers."
    = He made too many and too quick concessions.
  • “He tried to meet the requirements.
    = The employee was a zero.
  • "She set about the tasks assigned to her with great enthusiasm."
    = But don't ask how chaotic that was!
  • "She was committed within the scope of her abilities."
    = Unfortunately she is completely incompetent.
  • "Her punctuality made her a good example."
    = Unfortunately, there was nothing more than punctuality.
  • "She knew how to successfully delegate all tasks."
    = She was lazy and skilfully passed the work on to colleagues.
  • "He showed understanding and interest in his work."
    = He just didn't work.
  • "He was always an understanding superior to his employees."
    = He was not assertive and had no authority.
  • "She did all the tasks dutifully and properly."
    = She only did what she was told and did not show any initiative.
  • "It essentially met our expectations."
    = His performance was simply poor.
  • "He had specialist knowledge and a healthy level of self-confidence."
    = He made up for inadequate specialist knowledge with one big mouth.
  • "He solved all the tasks for his own benefit and in the company's interest."
    = He committed theft and was noticed by serious offenses.
  • "He was committed to the interests of his colleagues both inside and outside the company."
    = He was on the works council and was involved in a union.

Behavioral assessment

  • "He has specialist knowledge and healthy self-confidence."
    = The guy is more arrogant than a diva.
  • "She showed a good empathy for the concerns of the workforce."
    = She flirted more than she worked.
  • “He got on well with his superiors.
    = He is a follower and adapts everywhere.
  • "His sociability helped improve the working atmosphere."
    = He liked to drink a schnapps while he was working.
  • “He was capable and able to speak up.
    = He cannot take any criticism.
  • "She showed a refreshing way of dealing with colleagues and superiors."
    = She is cheeky and has no manners.
  • "She was very capable and knew how to sell well."
    = She was a pompous woman.
  • “She had a comprehensive understanding of the concerns of the employees.
    = She is gay or lesbian.
  • "His behavior towards colleagues and superiors was always exemplary."
    = He had problems with his boss (because he is only mentioned after the colleagues).
  • "He was a sociable and outgoing colleague."
    = Nobody liked him.

Closing formula

  • "He / she leaves us at his / her own request."
    = He / she leaves no gap.
  • "He / she leaves us by mutual agreement."
    = He / she was thus in advance of a termination.
  • "We wish him all the best and health."
    = Warning, he's ailing!
  • "We wish him all the best for the future, especially success."
    = He didn’t have any success here.
  • "We wish him / her all the best for the future, including success."
    = He / she did not have any success here.

It is also important what is NOT in the certificate

How good a qualified job reference really is also depends on what is not in it. Because, as I said, it should give your potential new employer a picture of your personality. But what if only your specialist knowledge is highlighted, but no wording indicates that you are a team player? Or that your employer regrets your departure and wishes you all the best for the future? See video ...

Such formulations do not have to be included in a qualified job reference. If they are missing, however, it suggests interpersonal problems - either you are an absolute loner or the work has turned out to be so difficult that the whole workforce breathes a sigh of relief that you leave.

Certificate correction: entitlement to grade 3

If your certificate does not meet the above (formal) criteria, you as an employee can immediately request improvement or replacement. Specifically: If your certificate is incomplete or below average (worse than grade “satisfactory”), you can reject the previous certificate and request a new copy. You also do not have to accept ambiguous or contradicting formulations or typing errors in the qualified job reference. You can complain and contest all of this.

However, you shouldn't wait too long: The right to have your job reference corrected expires after five to 15 months. If you do not agree with your job reference, you have three options:

  • Direct approach
    First of all, speaking to the boss directly is the best way. Especially employers of small and medium-sized companies are not necessarily used to formulations. A bad testimonial does not have to be willfully negative. Asking for correction can often solve the problem.
  • Written objection
    If the correction is a long time coming, or if an employer is unreasonable, you should formulate a written objection. In it, you list precisely the passages of the job reference that you are objecting to and ideally suggest alternative formulations.
  • Legal action
    If, despite the written request, no correction is made, you have the right to submit a "certificate correction action" three weeks after receiving the job reference. However, the burden of proof lies with you as long as the certificate is not worse than average grade 3.

Job references for managers: the main differences

Certificates for managers differ enormously from those for simple employees. In fact, when filling board or managing director posts, separate rules apply. If supervisory boards or company owners put their judgment on outgoing managers in many words, a lot of adulation and many pages, then this is often intended to conceal the fact that the job reference is not worth much more than the paper on which it was printed. There are three main components in a job reference from managing directors or high-ranking executives:

  • The assessment of the strategic and entrepreneurial competence. If it is missing, this leads to the suspicion that the manager was neither an important source of inspiration nor particularly innovative.
  • The description of his Leadership behavior. Above all, substantial statements on the relationship with colleagues on the board and employees should be included in the certificate. Otherwise, this can indicate limited social and leadership skills.
  • A comprehensible one Reason for the professional change. This can be a change of ownership structure or a voluntary departure due to new challenges. Even divided views on the company's strategic direction are okay. Everything without a reason, however, sounds like: "Unfortunately we had to fire the Lusche!"

How can such (positive) formulations in manager certificates sound like? For example like this:

It is particularly important to me to express my thanks and appreciation to Ms. ___________ for her careful and goal-oriented actions. With the termination of its activity, ARBEIT AG loses a personality that has always been characterized by competence, dynamism and a sure sense of what is feasible. Your professional and social skills were a key success factor in the development of the new business area ___________. As a manager, she was always exemplary. Even after the staff reductions ...

... his achievements have found our fullest recognition at all times and in every respect. Mr. ___________ actively promoted cooperation, his behavior towards colleagues and employees was always motivating and exemplary. Mr. ___________ knew how to convince the employees, to motivate them and to lead them to top performance. He informed the employees fully and in a timely manner, promoted their further training and delegated tasks and responsibility in an effective and result-oriented manner. He enabled his team to very successfully achieve optimal solutions independently after clear, well-thought-out planning.

Ms. ___________ is a dynamic specialist and managerial personality with an entrepreneurial spirit, who manages her tasks with great personal commitment in a targeted and result-oriented manner and develops them further through a variety of initiatives. Ms. ___________ used the design space associated with her respective position creatively and responsibly for the best of us. She knows how to give impulses and to break new ground. Ms. ___________ has the ability to be open-minded, sociable and appropriate to the situation. It should be mentioned in particular that Ms. ___________ is an exemplary manager with a sense of responsibility and constant willingness to work. It asserts itself, can inspire employees for their goals and always lead to optimal results.

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