I am wondering how important it is to have an employer's reference letter made by your supervisor if he already agreed to serve as a reference person (for your resume/CV)?

The circumstances are that I quit working as a R&D intern (software/algorithm development) in order to proceed as PhD in computer science.

  1. Is it common practice to have reference letters from your past employers or are reference persons in your CV state-of-the-art and sufficient?

  2. Does this similarly apply to long-term company interns?

I ask this because I got the opinion that tailored recommendation letters (for a specific application) or contacts of reference persons are mainly used/asked in contrast to employment reference letter.

Sidenote: I do not have such a reference letter yet as I primarily studied until now and I do not want to regret having not asked now when there is the chance.

EDIT: It relates mainly to central europe (Germany) and research and development (close to academia) companies.

  • 3
    This question is very broad: it depends on geographical location (country), branch of industry and job type. Maybe you can make your question more specific.
    – user8036
    Nov 26, 2013 at 12:48
  • Basically confirming what's in the the answers below but in Germany it's still common to send and request some document about each of your previous jobs and degrees, all the way back to your final secondary school diploma. Even in IT, people are often surprised to learn that it works differently in other countries and unfamiliar with the very notion of reference persons.
    – Relaxed
    Nov 29, 2013 at 1:24

3 Answers 3


In corporate Germany (academia may differ), you are supposed to have an "Arbeitszeugnis" (job reference/certificate of employment) for each job you previously held. Referencing actual people as contacts is pretty much unheard of. You can do it, but you will probably get a few raised eyebrows because you will be the only person to do this. Best case, people will think you are a US citizen.

"Arbeitszeugnis" is only relevant for actual jobs you had. For purely academic experience, when you apply for jobs, your degree is sufficient.

  • Thx, good to know. Do you also think one should request an "Arbeitszeugnis" for each longer-termed internship ("Werkstudent")?
    – user12443
    Nov 27, 2013 at 8:55
  • 1
    @user12443 Absolutely. Maybe it will have a different name for internships, but for each official job you did, paid or not, you should get a written certificate. For really long term jobs (talking about many years here), it's normal to request an "Arbeitszeugnis" in intervals. For example, every time your superior changes or your job description changes, you get one for the previous job.
    – nvoigt
    Nov 27, 2013 at 9:18

In start-up Germany, real written-paper reference/recommendation letters ('Arbeitszeugnisse') are usual but not required. Some people manage their references on LinkedIn or similar tools and usually only provide these in digital form. Reference contacts to call are often times are very valuable - mainly because IT or start-up people just tend to know one another.

Either way, in germany the rule of thumb is still to collect all written documents you can get your hands on that speak well of you (see the 'corporate germany' answer), and provided you don't drown your future employer in paper, those certainly do no harm in the start-up world either.


German-speaking countries have special traditions and laws regarding employers' references. Here are some select passages from the current version of the wikipedia article about it, which corresponds to my experience as an expatriate living in Switzerland:

"An employment reference letter (German: Arbeitszeugnis) is a letter from an employer about an employee's qualities, common in German-speaking countries. An employment reference letter can be written by co-workers, customers, vendors and colleagues. This letter can then be used to help the employee find a new job at another company. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Bulgaria are the only countries in Europe where employees can legally claim an employment reference, including the right to a correct, unambiguous and benevolent appraisal.


Most potential employers will verify the information provided in the employment reference letter."

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