What is the difference between a reference letter & a certificate of service?

This question is something we get asked often by our candidates and due to there sometimes being confusion we want to explain what the difference between the two is.

I want to start by stating that most recruiters will normally NOT ask for a certificate of service but they WILL ask for a reference letter. The reason for this will become clearer as we go into the difference but please keep this in mind when submitting an application through to a recruiter.

I would suggest only submitting a certificate of service if you are asked for this as you want to limit the amount of documents you submit for an application, making sure you are only submitting what would be relevant in your job seeking process.


A certificate of service

This is a brief letter on a company letterhead which normally is a template that has to just be filled out by a Manager or Supervisor.

The template would normally include:

Employee name

Employee ID number

Job title of the employee

Name of company

Date in which the employee started working for the company

Date in which the employee left the company

Salary the employee was earning

Reason for termination

Name and position of person who filled the letter out and their signature



So why might this be asked for?

To confirm employment

To confirm exact employment dates

To confirm past salary

To confirm the reason why you left that company


A reference letter

This is a letter which goes into detail about the employees duties and performance in their role and is basically seen as a ”letter of recommendation”

This is not normally a template and would be typed out on a company letterhead by a Manager or Supervisor.

The letter would normally include things such as… (please note these are only examples and there is no official template/format for a reference letter)

Date the letter is being written

Employee name

Employee ID number

Job title of the employee

Name of the company

Date in which the employee started working for the company

Date in which the employee left the company

What were the basic daily duties of the employee in their role

How they performed in their duties

Any relevant additional information such as if they received good feedback from customers, guests or clients, if they got on with the rest of the team, if they had any major achievements while working for the company, if they made any impactful changes to the company

If they would recommend them for a position at another company



So why is this letter asked for?

To confirm employment

To confirm exact employment dates

To find out what experience the employee has

To find out how the employee performed in their duties

To find out if the employer would recommend them

Please note:

A recruiter will also contact past employers (with the candidates permission) to confirm telephonically or via email any references but also then to ask any specific questions that they may have, this is to enable them to see what roles the job seeker would be most suited too based on their experience. You should have contactable references listed on your Cv, typically at the bottom of your Cv.

If you have listed reference contacts on your Cv then you are allowing a recruiter to contact them, so do not list anyone that cant be contacted (for example, this may be a current employer, if they arent aware that you are looking)

Example of why references are needed:

A chef may apply for a Head Chef vacancy, but they haven’t as yet worked as a head chef, but as a sous chef. Now of course every head chef started somewhere so the applicant would be considered by the recruiter as long as the employer (the client) doesn’t have a requirement that they HAVE to had already worked in this role and if they do this would of been stated in the job advert. A requirement from the client and on the advert may simply be: must have experience doing stock takes and orders, or must have experience managing other staff members.

Therefore a recruiter would confirm this with the job seeker as well as the past employer by viewing their reference letter but also by contacting the employer with any questions that will enable them to find out what experience they had or what their responsibilities were.

Why you should ask your employer for a reference:

References are very important and should be asked for before leaving a company, EVEN if you have a new job to go to, it is advisable to always ask for a reference letter so that you can keep this on file for any future applications.

If you believe an employer may not give you a reference letter, maybe this is company policy or if you believe they will not give a positive reference then this needs to be explained to a recruiter as to why you believe this and always be honest in your reasons.

To sum up… 

  • A certificate of service is a basic template ONLY confirming employment dates, salary and often reason for employee leaving
  • A reference letter is a letter of recommendation that covers more detail about the employees role, duties and how they performed and any additional relevant information
  • When leaving a company you should ask for a reference letter, even if you have a new job to go to
  • Reference letters should be sent with applications to recruiters or potential employers as separate attachments as part of your application

We also have a video on our social media about this topic so if you would like to hear more in a video then check out our FACEBOOK OR INSTAGRAM PAGE – @wilddreamshospitality