A letter of recommendation is a reference letter that highlights an individual’s work or academic performance. If you’re a supervisor, professor, teacher, mentor, or coach, writing letters of recommendation might be part of your job responsibilities.
A glowing letter of recommendation can help an applicant outshine a great resume or cover letter. But how do you write one?
To write a letter of recommendation, you must include the applicant’s qualifications, skills, and attributes related to the position or program for which they’re applying. Highlight their achievements and the qualities and abilities that make them a good candidate for the program, job, or school.
Once you draft a letter of recommendation, it goes directly to the admissions committee or hiring department. In this article, you’ll learn the following about writing a letter of recommendation:
- When you should write a letter of recommendation
- What to consider before writing
- What to include in the letter
- How to write a letter of recommendation
Should I Write a Letter of Recommendation?
Most colleges and universities require letters of recommendation with an application. Students and candidates who need these letters reach out to colleagues who believed in or inspired them.
Being asked to write one is an honor; however, you should only agree if you can write the letter with honesty, enthusiasm, and confidence.
If a student, former employee, or client requests a letter of recommendation, you’re under no obligation to say yes. You should first consider whether you’re the best person for the task.
Consider writing the letter if you:
- Vividly remember the applicant and their presence, qualities, capabilities, and other specifics about your time with them
- Have the time to prepare a letter of recommendation explicitly tailored to the applicant
- Can positively advocate for the applicant using specific, detailed examples of their achievements and skills
If you don’t feel you’re up to the task or capable of writing the letter, you may politely decline.
What To Know Before Writing a Letter of Recommendation
Before writing a letter of recommendation, there are a few things to consider:
- Request information from the applicant regarding the program for which they’re applying. Knowing what they’re applying for and what role they’ll play can help you draft a letter that explicitly mentions qualifications related to that position.
- Ask the applicant to write a statement about their interests and goals. You should ideally know some of this information about the applicant, but you can make the letter more personal once they provide it. You can combine their goals and interests with the information that you have about the program to show how they’re related.
- Know who else is writing a letter of recommendation. Ask the applicant what they believe other recommenders will touch on. This way, you can write a letter that complements the rest of them and includes additional information that they might miss.
What Should I Include in a Letter of Recommendation?
Reference letters are critical, especially letters of recommendation for college. That’s why it’s so essential to guarantee they include the correct information. This information should create a comprehensive picture of the applicant’s abilities.
Here are some things that you should consider including in your letter of recommendation:
- Touch on how long you’ve known the applicant, how you know them, and confirm dates and job titles.
- Identify the applicant’s skills and qualifications that make them the best candidate for the job, program, or school.
- Discuss detailed descriptions of their work or job performance and why they stood out, including any past work or contributions.
- Describe their work or school performance and attitude.
- Mention their suitability for the job or program for which they’re applying.
- Support the central claims they make on their application.
Showcase the applicant in a positive, unique light that’ll make them stand out from other applicants.
How Do I Write/Format a Letter of Recommendation?
Write a letter of recommendation in business letter format with a professional greeting and closing. Here’s an in-depth view of what the letter should look like:
- Greeting – The greeting should be formal and appropriate titles used. Letters should address the “head” of the program. If that information is unavailable, address the program team as a whole. For example, “Dear XYZ Committee.” When addressing women, use “Ms.” rather than “Mrs.” or “Miss.”
- Introduction – Your introduction should discuss how you know the applicant and in what context. You can also confirm dates in this section. For example, “John worked with XYZ Company from 2004 to 2014.”
- Overview of Skills & Qualifications – This is where you’ll discuss the applicant’s role in your program, job, school, etc., and their skills and qualifications.
- Detailed Description of Performance – Here’s where you’ll shine a light on the applicant’s performance and how it relates to the program for which they’re applying. Mention specifics and explain why the applicant stands out.
- Closing Statement – Your closing statement is your last opportunity to convince the reader that the applicant is the best choice. Have a strong, positive closing recommendation, and then sign with your full title.
Once you’ve pointed out why the applicant deserves the position for which they’re applying, then you’re finished. Try to keep things brief, but not too brief. A one-page, single-spaced document is enough to recommend a qualified candidate.
After you’ve completed your letter, you can send it to the applicant for review or send it directly to the hiring manager or admissions committee. The student should provide you with an address for where to send the recommendation.
Letter of Recommendation Example
Below is an example of a brief letter of recommendation. You may use this sample to help you write your own, but be sure to tailor yours to the applicant.
Director of Finance
The ABCD Company
Dear Ms. Smith,
With the highest of privilege, I recommend Jonathan Willis for the role of Financial Advisor with The ABCD Company. Jonathan worked with COMPANY NAME since 2004, where he served as an Accountant for my department.
Over the past 16 years, Jonathan prepared our department’s financial documents, kept detailed records, created financial forecasts, and developed accounting policies. I have worked with him directly on a project for developing a training program for our accounting staff. He has a positive attitude, an untouchable work ethic, and a keen eye for detail.
Jonathan has proved time and time again to be an irreplaceable asset to our team. After his first year with COMPANY NAME, he identified several discrepancies in our books. He was able to correct those discrepancies and, as a result, saved our company thousands of dollars. Needless to say, Jonathan is well-respected and held in high regard here at COMPANY NAME.
While I know it will be difficult to find another employee as detail-oriented, thorough, and serious about his work as Jonathan, I am excited to see him soar to new heights. He will make an exceptional addition to any team, and I would recommend him without a second thought.
For any questions, you may contact me at the email address provided. Thank you for your time.
Chief Financial Officer
The sample letter above is brief, to the point, and speaks highly of the applicant. It showcases a worker willing to go above and beyond to make positive contributions.
By highlighting a candidate’s skills, qualifications, achievements, and performance, you’re giving them a better chance at landing the position or being admitted into the school or program.
When drafting a letter of recommendation, don’t just confirm that you worked with the applicant. Instead, use an enthusiastic tone to show the reader that you have faith in the applicant and are excited to see them have this well-deserved opportunity.
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