As my currents employer financial situation is not very stable, I was looking through my resumes etc. just in case. I noticed that I have have 5 years work experience in 3 companies and an university degree but no recommendation letter. I got my jobs until now by knowing someone important in the company, beeing at the right time at the right place and by oral recommendation from the former boss and working on a similar project.

The first employment is a summer job for multiple years in my field from 5 years ago and I don't know how they would react if I asked them or they would remember me. (They were happy with me but then were restructering)

The second job is about 4 years ago and ended with bankruptcy of the company. My boss was fond of my and very pleased of my results. I am sure he would write me any reference letter I wish but he always expects favors (like providing him work for free which would normally cost him hundreds of Euros, giving him contacts of people with influence and recommending him to them with partly true statements or delivering him not open available information).

The current company is only nice as long as you are nice to them and they don't think, it is nice when I resignate (especially as I have an important role in the company) and asking them for a reference letter sets there alarms off. So I don't expect a good reference letter from them, even they go bankrupt. I don't have coworkers I could give as reference person because those aren't people with good social skills and professional appearence.

So how important would it be to get a reference letter (and from which)? Or should I just put no recommendation letter to my applications?

I am living in central Europe and working in IT.

  • There's a difference between a recommendation/Empfehlungsschreiben and a note of employment/Dienstzeugnis. The latter is merely a confirmation that yes, you've worked for them; in Austria at least, the employer is required to phrase it positively, which means it loses all value other than as a confirmation. The recommendation is completely different: it's optional, and it's subjective, and it can potentially be immensely helpful. May 18, 2016 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


I don't know exactly in which German-speaking country you live; things may change slightly from country to country, but not too much, I think.

I live in German-speaking Switzerland. Here the work recommendation "Arbeitszeugnis" is important enough to be regulated by a law, whereby it is your right to request one at any time, whether you want to leave or not, and the employer is obliged to write one that is both truthful and well-meaning. I recommend you should research the laws of your residence country; the Swiss rules are detailed in German here, while the Arbeitszeugnis tradition is explained more generally for all German-speaking countries in this English-language wikipedia article.

Anyway this is a rather formal thing, other factors will be more important to find a new job. For example, networking and direct connections are always the best way to find a new job, here like everywhere, just like your experience proves. And even if you apply for a new job at a company where you know no one, they will likely want you to give reference contacts that they can call (NB: just call, not invite in person). However, recruiters and hiring managers normally expect you to provide references only for your past jobs, and not for the current one, because they know that you cannot set off alarms at your current employer.

All things considered, I recommend that you should go all routes, i.e. in order of effectiveness:

  1. keep searching for a job via networking, like you have successfully done in the past.

  2. choose the most suitable and trustworthy people among your past bosses and colleagues, and ask them if you can mention them as reference contacts.

  3. request a recommendation letter "Arbeitszeugnis" from your 1st and also 2nd employer (without promising the 2nd employer to do anything unethical... worst case, you get no recommendation from them), so that also the formal angle is covered.

Finally: also check out this question, especially if you are in Germany.



As lifExplorer already pointed out the situation in Germany or the German speaking countries in general is somewhat different then in other countries like the US. For example in Germany it's still expected to have a personal passport picture in the CV, while this is a absolute no-go and leads to immediate trashing of your application in a lot of other countries like the US. What I want to say: Be careful about any non-German resource for application advices. A lot of them might not apply to Germany.

To get to your actual question: Recommendation letters are another example of the above and are handled very differently in Germany.

The process is strongly regulated by law. Your former employees are forced to give you recommendation letters upon request and it must full fill a lot of formal requirements.

Are you able to get a letter from previous employments?

There is a three year deadline (following BGB §195) for you requesting this (starting with the last month of the year when the job was terminated). Following the legislative authority it can't be expected from your former employer after this time to actually have any explicit knowledge about your working ethos and be able to give a qualified recommendation letter.

So after that time you have no lawful right to demand an recommendation letter. You can only ask for it nicely. In my experience most of the employers will be hesitate to give you a letter after the deadline, because once they do so, you regain all the legal rights attached to it - which means potential legal hassle for them.

How important is it to have any recommendation letters?

To make it short: The bigger the company you are applying to is, the more important it is to have a recommendation letter so that HR can follow their formal process. Most of the time the actual contents of the recommendation letter are completely non-relevant. It's just important to have one at all.

This is due to the current legal situation in Germany which makes it basically impossible to write anything bad into this recommendation letters. Because of this fact the actual worth of that letters is very limited, too.

What about the bankrupt company?

Your former boss is in no formal position with this company anymore. So he won't be able to give you a formal recommendation letter (a real Arbeitszeugnis) anyway. You can only get a personal recommendation from him IMHO.

What I would advice you to do

In your case I would write a personal recommendation letter yourself, stating what you have done and how you have done it and ask your former boss to sign it (and of course change it were he disagrees), after all it is asking for a far greater favour to actually write a recommendation letter (he has to take the time to actually think of what you did), then just to sign it.

If this doesn't work out it's no problem, too. If you quit your current position you don't really have to worry about them giving you a bad reference. If they to so, they have to have real actual evidence (for example time-sheet records that show that you have been 15 minutes late every day) before they can give you any bad reference. In general the German labour law is known to be really employee favourable - which also comes into play in the case of recommendation letters.

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