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A previous employer can be a valuable source of information regarding someone you are considering hiring. While some may refuse to provide any information, many will be happy to share their thoughts and opinions with you. Bear in mind that they too are in business, and send them a request that they can deal with quickly while still supplying you with the information you need to make an informed hiring decision.
The attached file contains a sample letter to a former employer that you can adapt to your particular needs. Make an effort to explore not only what activities the potential employee engaged in, but also whether he was a good employee. Open-ended questions on topics such as reliability and team skills provide the former employer with a chance to provide important input on the more subjective aspects of the applicant's performance as an employee.
The file is in rich text format (RTF) that is suitable for use with most word processing programs used in the Windows environment.
Employee reference check letter
Guidelines for Reference Checking