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how to write a letter of recommendation

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

At some point in your career, you may be asked for a letter of recommendation for a co-worker or an employee you managed. Writing one isn’t difficult as long as you have some tools and templates to get you started. Learn how to approach the process so that you can communicate in a way that helps the person you are recommending.

What is a Letter of Recommendation?

The letter of recommendation is also called a reference letter, and it is given as a personal display of confidence in a co-worker, friend, or student.  

Who Needs Letters of Recommendation? Why?

There are three situations where these letters are most common:

  1. Students applying for college, graduate school, internships, or special funding.
  2. Job candidates who want their application to stand out.
  3. Anyone applying for a leadership position where references are required.

It’s often requested by recruiters or hiring managers that are conducting interviews for the above three situations.

Who Do You Ask For a Letter of Recommendation?

Many applications require that letters of recommendation come from personal references, professional references, academic references, or a combination of the three. In the case of a personal reference, this is also called a “character reference” and can usually be from any recommender who knows the applicant personally but is not related to them. Professional references, however, are typically limited to work colleagues, supervisors, or business contacts who know your professional aptitude. 

How to Ask For a Letter of Recommendation (With A Specific Example)

If you haven’t asked for a letter before, it can seem scary or uncomfortable. To lessen your stress and assure a better outcome, know the best ways to ask a recommender for a letter and who to ask for each situation. Ask someone you already have a good relationship with and who knows you well enough to provide specific, positive details about your performance.

Here is a specific example of how to ask for a letter of recommendation:

Subject Line: Request for Letter of Recommendation

Hi [Name],

As part of the application process for [work opportunity/academic program], I have been asked to provide a letter of recommendation. Would it be possible for you to provide one based on my experience working with you at [company name/school]?

I would be honored to have a recommendation coming from someone with your background and reputation. As someone who has really enjoyed working with you, I felt you were best suited to provide a reference on my behalf.

I know you are busy, and I have attached the address where a letter could be sent, if you find that it works with your schedule.

Thank you for your time and attention!

Sincerely,

[Name]

Tips on Writing Personal Recommendation Letters

What if you are asked to write the letter? There are some simple tips for a recommender that can make writing an effective letter of recommendation easier, such as:

  1. Open with a friendly and professional salutation, such as “Dear Dean of Students Marcus Smith.” If you don’t know the name of the person, use their title or department name.
  2. Establish excitement for your strong recommendation in the first sentence. Stating that it is your pleasure to recommend Marcy Jones, for example, is a good way to kick things off.
  3. Explain your relationship. If you’re the manager at XYZ company who supervised the candidate for four years, say this. Establish your role, where you were working together, and for how long you were in contact.
  4. Use genuine and positive words of affirmation. Don’t hold back in explaining the unique gifts or talents that the person displayed during their time with you.
  5. Remember professional or academic perks. If there is a work-specific skill they possess or a study that they excelled in, be sure to include it as well.
  6. Include personal strengths and anecdotes. Is there a specific time you recall the person being helpful, passionate, or dedicated? Share that story in context to how they perform overall. Personal stories that match the job description are very effective.
  7. Explain any transitions. If the person being recommended is leaving your employ to go somewhere else, be sure to explain why. Don’t leave the recipient wondering if something went wrong, but if you can’t do this without honestly leaving the person in a good light, leave it out.
  8. Close the letter politely with a sign-off.

What to Include in a Letter of Recommendation

In addition to those specific elements mentioned above, follow this basic structure:

  • Salutation of one line
  • One paragraph detailing how you know the person and why you are qualified
  • One paragraph explaining why you recommend the person and details on what they’ve done or accomplished
  • One summary reinforcing that you highly recommend the person
  • A brief conclusion with an offer to chat if they have questions
  • Polite sign off with your name and title

Letter of Recommendation Template

Here is a specific example of a letter of recommendation for employment:

To whom it may concern,

It is my pleasure to recommend [employee name] for the position of [open role] at [company name]. During the [number of] years that I was his manager at [company name], I had the opportunity to observe him grow from a curious and dedicated [previous role] to our top [latest role]. I have no doubt that he will be an asset to your company, as well.

[Employee name]’s strengths include an incredible empathy for other team members and a willingness to tackle problems head-on. He consistently broke department records and put our teams on track to grow at a rate of 20% over our projections. In addition to his professional accomplishments, [employee name] was known for his volunteerism and a heart for heading up our charity initiatives.

I am confident that [employee name] will bring that same energy and talent to [company name], and if [he/she] wasn’t moving, we would have enjoyed having [him/her] on for many more years. [He/She] has my complete recommendation.

Please reach out if you have any questions. My contact information is below my signature.

Sincerely,

[Your name]

Free yourself up to handle more of these personal recommendation letters by using an ATS that automates so many of your hiring tasks. Learn how Comeet can help.

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Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith

Adrienne Smith is a content strategy consultant working with high-growth businesses on their brand messaging, content strategy, and content creation. A digital nomad, she's exploring the world's cultures and cuisines as she works.

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