Learning how to write a recommendation letter is well worth the effort, if only to take the high road and help a trusted colleague, staffer, student or friend climb the career ladder.
Strictly defined, a letter of recommendation, also known as a letter of reference, is usually written by a manager, employer or other highly placed career professional who knows the subject of the recommendation letter well. The letter places the spotlight on the subject's workplace skills, character and attributes, and ties the positive experience the recommendation letter writer had interacting with the individual referred to in the letter.
Recommendation letters remain in high demand among recruiters, staffing agencies and employers. Often, a good recommendation letter can tip the scales toward a job applicant, with all other characteristics and qualities being equal. Recommendation letters usually factor in later in the job interview process, and are read and assessed before deciding to tender a job offer to the candidate who was the subject of the recommendation letter.
Yet letters of recommendation aren't limited to the employment sector. Students also rely on letters of recommendation to get into good colleges and universities and to apply for grants and scholarships, as well as internships.
Letter of Recommendation Template
A template can be helpful when it comes to crafting a letter of recommendation, but be careful about sticking too close to the script. One of the most important elements of a great recommendation letter is personal experience, the stories and examples you use to talk about when a person ably demonstrated their abilities and skills. This, combined with the structure of the letter, creates a great recommendation that feels like you truly want to recommend this person for the position, and believe they'll do a great job.
Here is a template to use for reference when thinking about the recommendation letter you'll have to write:
Greeting (Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs/Dr. [Surname]),
I'm pleased to write to you today to recommend [Name] for [Position] at [Company or School].
I met [Name] as [Relationship] at [Company] and have known them for [Amount of time]. During this time, I was greatly impressed by [his/her] abilities, talents and work ethic. [He/she] is not only a very capable [employee/student] but also a joy to work with.
[Name] established [himself/herself] as a hard worker always looking to learn, especially during [example of achievement or project]. I came away very impressed, and found [him/her] to be an excellent team player in the [office/classroom].
[His/her] talents especially shined when [example of project or achievement]. I believe this talent will lend itself especially well to your [office/school].
I believe [Name] would be a fantastic addition for you and would benefit your [company], and can be contacted at [contact information] if you are interested in more information. I am happy to discuss [Name]'s achievements further.
This is the structure you will need overall, but there are plenty of areas where you will be editing and personalizing based on what you're recommending the person for, the anecdotes you'll be given, and their specific talents and attributes you are highlighting.
How To Write A Recommendation Letter
Take these steps in writing a good recommendation letter:
1. Be prepared
If you're writing a recommendation letter for someone looking to lock down a job offer, ask in advance for a copy of their resume, or their Linked In contact information. The same goes for a student's request for a recommendation letter for college - ask for their curriculum and, if possible, their grade point averages and outside school activities (like volunteer work or a part-time job. Knowing all you can about the subject you're writing about is a big first step in getting a recommendation letter right.
2. Make it official
You'll want to include your company's, your organization, or your school or university letterhead at the top of a recommendation letter. Doing so adds heft and credibility to the letter, as the recipient knows the recommendation letter is coming from a qualified source.
3. Include the date
The top of the letter should also include the date you wrote the letter, giving the recipient a timeline for when the letter was generated. A date also reassures the recipient that the recommendation letter is current, and not penned several years ago.
4. Include the recipient
Include the recipient's name and title under your own name, title and company letterhead. Adding the recipient's name is a warm touch that is designed to appeal directly to that person, by name and title. The recipient is likely to take a recommendation letter more seriously if their name and title are included up top.
5. Craft an appropriate salutation
Keep the opening of your recommendation letter formal. For instance, in your greeting make sure to use the term "Dear Mr. or Ms. Jones, (for example.) Also, use the recipient's professional designation, if appropriate. The terms "Dr.", "Professor", or "President/CEO" are commonly cited in recommendation letters.
6. Get to the point
People, especially decision makers in the midst of a job hire process, are busy. Consequently, keep the recommendation letter short and sweet. Right after your greeting to the letter recipient, introduce yourself as the person writing a letter of recommendation, provide a quick line or two on the nature of your relationship (i.e., manager, teacher, or other professional relationship.) Keep this information to one paragraph or less. Your second paragraph should state that you're writing to recommend the subject of your letter to the recipient.
Explain, in bullet points (they stand out better when no bundled together in a paragraph) why the subject of the letter of recommendation is qualified for the company, school or organization represented by the letter recipient. Your letter should not be longer than one page - aim for three to five paragraphs. That should give you more than enough time to make your recommendation.
7. Accentuate the positive
When making the case for the person you're writing about, emphasize the skills, strengths and accomplishments they bring to the table for an employer or an educational institution. Include any personal traits you've seen from this person, and include them in the recommendation letter.
8. Close out properly
In closing your recommendation letter, state that you think very highly of the person you're writing about and that he or she would be an outstanding addition to a company or educational institution. Finish the letter by including your contact information, including phone number and email address, and let the letter recipient know it's OK to reach out and contact you with any questions. These days, recommendation letters can be sent multiple ways, including formal mail delivery and email. Ask the person you're writing the letter for to provide the best mode of delivery for the recommendation letter.
Letter of Recommendation for Student vs. Coworker
"Letter of recommendation" is a broad term. Who you're writing this for determines quite a bit of the letter itself. A professor writing a letter of recommendation to a university for their student is a lot different than an employer writing a letter of recommendation to another company for their former employee.
If you're recommending an employee to a company with this letter, you'll need to know about the company and the position this is for, as well as how their particular skillset will benefit them at this job. Is there a number attached to their accomplishments? Perhaps a 20% increase in sales over a fiscal quarter. Statistics like that, should they work in the person's favor, can be very beneficial and provide proof of their abilities.
Talk with the person before sending this letter out too. They may recall an achievement you forgot about that they think warrants a mention, or ask you to not mention something they think won't be of any use for the job.
Recommending a student? It would be simple enough to just pick out positives in their transcripts and call it a day, but you'll still want to think about examples of when they demonstrated knowledge, hard work and a willingness to learn. And once again, make sure to talk with the student, as well as other adults who could let you know of positive attributes. If this student has a relevant extracurricular activity, talk with the head of that extracurricular and see what they have to say.
Turning Down a Request to Write a Recommendation Letter
There's no law that says you have to write a recommendation letter. Maybe you don't know the person requesting the letter well enough to write a recommendation letter. Or, perhaps the person requesting the recommendation letter doesn't meet the high standards you may have for writing a recommendation letter.
Whatever the reason, bow out gracefully and state you're not comfortable writing the letter. If possible, recommend someone else to write the letter, and wish the person making the request warm regards and leave the matter there.