Artwork by: Stas Podgornov
Writing a letter of recommendation can be an awkward experience, especially if you have never written one before. This article will give you guidance and some good tips on how to write a good letter of recommendation.
When someone asks you for a letter of recommendation, you should take it as a compliment. It means that they have respect for you, and you have had an impact on their life. However, writing a recommendation letter can be a daunting task. You obviously want to create a letter that’s well-written and will make the best impression possible on a hiring manager.
Never fear, we’re here to assist. You can write a great recommendation letter for an employee, friend, colleague, or anyone else. We’ll give you some advice on format, content, and style to make your letter stand out and leave the reader impressed with whoever the letter is about.
In this article, we will cover the following topics:
What is a letter of recommendation?
Types of recommendation letter
Information needed from the person you are recommending
Formatting a letter of recommendation
Tips on writing a letter of recommendation
Frequently asked questions about letters of recommendation
Recommendation letters are used for all sorts of things. In general, any letter where the author is recommending someone or vouching for their abilities, skills, and traits is a letter of recommendation. They can be written by anyone, but they carry more weight when they come from someone who knows the recommended person very well and the writer has outstanding professional and personal credentials.
By far, the most common use for a letter of recommendation is for getting a job. Many companies use letters of recommendation in the hiring process. They are used to verify employment as well as validate professional qualifications. But, there are some other common forms of recommendation letters.
Some of the most common types of recommendation letters are professional, academic, rental, and personal.
Professional reference - also known as a job reference, is a letter that describes a person's work qualifications, skills, and ethics. These are most often used for job applications.
Academic reference - almost always used for school, college, or university applications. An academic letter of recommendation is about a person's academic experience, knowledge, capabilities, and goals. Many schools, programs, financial grants, and scholarships require academic references.
Rental reference - these are used by landlords to find out a person’s behavior as a tenant. A rental recommendation letter may cover the potential renter’s ability to pay rent and conform to contract terms.
Personal reference - also known as a character reference, is a letter that recounts the personal traits, lifestyle, morals, and values of the subject. Personal references are often used for legal proceedings and immigration applications.
Before you jump in and start writing a letter of recommendation, you need to do some homework. Having all the necessary information in hand before you get started writing will make for a much less stressful experience.
What information do you need? Here is a list of the usual pieces of information you will need to receive from the person you are recommending:
What type of recommendation is it? Academic? Personal reference? New job? Or something else?
To whom should the letter be addressed? (Contact details)
Copy of their current resume (to reference their experience and skills)
Job description of the position they’re seeking
Do they have anything specific they’d like you to cover?
When does the letter need to be sent?
Now that you know what type of letter of recommendation you will be writing and have all the information you need, you can create a format and start writing. Any type of letter of recommendation will have three main topics: your relationship with the person you’re recommending, your observations and evaluations of them, and why they are a good candidate.
Here are the components of a letter of recommendation:
Address - Address the letter to the appropriate contact, as provided by the person you are recommending. This should be a named person, if at all possible. Use their full name and title.
Introduction - Briefly cover the purpose of the letter. Introduce yourself, provide the name of the applicant you're recommending, and the role they are applying for. Keep it concise and on point.
Body - The main section of the letter should cover how you know the person (how long, where you met) and why you think they're a perfect fit for the position. Highlight a few of their best attributes and how they have demonstrated them. It is important that you have a specific example of a case when the applicant you're recommending used one of the qualities you have highlighted (expertise, tech skills, leadership, innovation, character, work ethic, etc.) in the letter.
Conclusion - End the letter with a reaffirmation of why you're vouching for the applicant. Highlight a reason for your recommendation. Make sure to include their full name and the position you're recommending them for.
Signature - Sign your letter with your full name, professional title, and written signature.
Ensure that you personalize your letter by stating why you're a great person to vouch for them. The recommendation will be more effective if you point out your knowledge of the applicant's abilities, qualities, and achievements.
Your letter of recommendation should be brief and to the point. No one wants to read a multipage rant about how great someone is. The people that read these types of letters are often reading many recommendations, and they want you to cut to the chase. Who are you? How do you know the applicant? And why you are recommending them?
Here is an example of a basic letter of recommendation:
I am writing to recommend [the person you’re recommending - use their full name] for [the role you’re recommending them for]...
I have known [person] since [date] as [how do you know the person? - friend, relative, employee, coworker, etc.]...
[person you’re recommending] is [qualities or skills the person has - intelligent, diligent, honest, hardworking, dedicated, innovative, etc.]...
My past history with [person] gives me the confidence to very happy recommend them for [the role you’re recommending them for]...
[Signature - your full name]
We’ve covered the basics for writing a letter of recommendation. Now we’ll give you some more guidance on how to create the best letter of recommendation possible.
In your introduction, establish how you know the person, if you have worked together, and for how long. Specify if they reported to you or if you were colleagues or otherwise. Include how you interacted. This may be covered in a specific example (later in the letter content).
Discuss the candidate’s work, with a focus on their strong suits and how it applies to the position they’re seeking.
For example, if they’re seeking a project management position, showcase how they have successfully led projects and include some quantifiable achievements like budget savings and on-time completions. Explain how they stood out from their colleagues and use specific examples to support your statements. It could be about a specific role, taking the initiative on a complex project, leading a team, instituting a new company-wide initiative, or anything to demonstrate their excellent abilities.
Using an interesting anecdote will make the recommendation more memorable to the reader. Everyone enjoys a good story, and just spouting out business accomplishments can be very boring. Just remember to keep it professional.
Close strong with a statement or two about why you feel they are the best candidate. Feel free to add creativity and personality. Don’t exaggerate or make anything up, but you do want to make a good and unforgettable impression for your candidate.
Finally, don’t provide a letter of recommendation if you are unable to give a positive recommendation. No one wants to get a letter that is critical of them. They won’t use it. If you are unable to recommend the person, then you should politely decline to provide a letter.
If the letter is for a school application, then you should have different content than a job recommendation letter. The first sentence should include the name of the student and the institution they are being recommended for. The main body will cover how you know the student, for how long, how many semesters you've taught them, and the names of the classes. Then talk about what qualities make them a great student, what work of theirs in your class impressed you, and why you are confident they will succeed
Highlight specific skills or traits that show why your candidate should get the position.
Create a very generic letter with generalizations and no examples.
Get to the point quickly.
Use vague descriptions or highly common traits and skills that are difficult to explain or show.
Be enthusiastic and professional.
Write a very long (more than one page) letter.
Make the reader want to hire them immediately.
Be dull and uninteresting.
Be complimentary (and honest!)
Have anything negative about the person. That would be the exact opposite of what they want.
Personalize the letter. Make it yours and show how the person you are writing about means something to you.
Write a letter that could be used for anyone and does not directly link them to you.
Do you need to include a date on a letter of recommendation? Yes, you should always include the current date on any formal letter, including a letter of recommendation.
How do you address a letter of recommendation? Place your address in the top-right corner of the letter with a completely spelled out date under it. Then on the left side of the page, several spaces under your address, write the recipient's name and address.
How do you sign off a letter of recommendation? Your closing statement may use "In conclusion," or "In summary," followed by a statement about your full support for the person you are recommending. Lastly, sign off with "Yours sincerely" and your full name, title, and signature.
How do I end a personal reference letter? Restate explicitly whether you would recommend the person for the role. Your recommendation (positive or negative) should match what you stated about the person in the main content of your letter.
A letter of recommendation is simply a type of business letter that recommends someone for some role.
There are different types of letters of recommendation such as professional, educational, rental, and personal. You should customize your letter to match whatever the person is applying for.
Always be positive and do your best to be interesting. No one wants to read a boring letter.
Be concise and stay on topic. Don’t be wordy or ramble on about things that don’t pertain to the role that is being applied for. Keep your letter to one page.
Garland is a writer and technology consultant that lives in far west Texas, USA. He is semi-retired from a successful 25-year career in the Information Technology industry, and now spends his time writing for various websites (mostly career development related). Garland holds a bachelor’s degree in Accounting and Finance, and a master’s degree in Economics and Computer Information Systems.