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How to write a recommendation letter

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation Like a Pro

Last updated: July 25, 2019
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Being asked to write a letter of recommendation can be both highly flattering and highly intimidating. It means the person asking you has had a positive experience working with you, and sees you as an esteemed professional that other companies will likewise respect.

On the other hand, it also means that you now will play a part (however large or small) in whether or not the person gets hired. Even if you’re not the one applying for the job, crafting a letter of recommendation can be quite a lot of work. Fortunately, we’re showing you how to write a letter of recommendation to make the process as seamless as possible.

Read on to learn helpful tips about how to write a recommendation letter including how to start the letter and what type of information you should include. You’ll also find a basic recommendation letter template to use as a guide.

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

As with all writing, starting is usually the most difficult step. Before putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), it helps to have as much information as possible.

If someone has asked you to write a letter of recommendation, request a link or copy of the exact job posting, as well as the person’s resume and cover letter. This allows you to see exactly where their qualifications meet the job description, so you can use these as focus points in your letter.

Take a cue from the language and tone of the job post. Does it use more formal language for a traditional or corporate position? Or is it a start-up company that has a more casual approach? Whatever it is, tailor your letter to match the voice and be sure to reference exact requirements.

The resume and cover letter give a good indication of how the applicant is positioning themselves for the job. Knowing what’s written in these two documents will give you a complete picture of what the hiring manager will see. This will help you compose a letter that best complements the applicant and creates a sense of cohesion.

If it’s a general letter of recommendation (not for a specific job), you’ll need to ask the person more about the scope of their target employment. What types of jobs are they going for? Do they have any specific skills or experiences that they’d like you to highlight? In these types of letters, it’s best to go with broader examples that exemplify soft or interpersonal skills (e.g., leadership, problem-solving), rather than hard job-specific skills, such as Salesforce experience or proficiency in Adobe Premiere.

You also need to know how and when the letter needs to be submitted. Do you need to submit a physical copy with letterhead? Should it be directly mailed to the company or to your contact? Is sending a recommendation letter via email enough?

Chances are email is enough. You’ll write the recommendation on a computer document and send it to your contact who will then submit it to the company along with their resume and cover letter. Whatever the case may be, make sure you’re clear about these details so you can provide the letter in the proper format.

Make It Personal

Keep in mind that a recommendation letter isn’t just a list of qualifications (like a resume) or even how the person’s experience makes them suitable for the job (like a cover letter).

Rather, letters of recommendation are your personal account of how you know the person. Share some information about who you are and how the two of you are connected. What are some specific examples of how you’ve worked together or overcame a challenge? Can you describe any of the person’s positive traits that are worth sharing?

Choose one or two traits most appropriate for the job, and illustrate how those qualities have been beneficial in a work setting. Feel free to include any anecdotes and stories to reveal more about who the person is.

For instance, instead of simply saying someone is a great designer, mention how one of their designs helped to increase brand recognition and sales. Remember, it’s always better to show, not tell.

Finally, end the letter on a strong note with your personal recommendation. Something like, “I wholeheartedly recommend this person for the job,” or “This person has always proven to be an asset to any team.” Statements like these are what make a hiring company excited about a candidate and eager to invite them to a follow-up interview.

What to Include in a Recommendation Letter

Woman with a laptop, pen, and notebook

An effective recommendation letter template can be broken down into four parts — the introduction, the body, the conclusion, and the closing signoff. Each of these are described in detail below.

The Introduction

The entire letter should begin with the appropriate salutation — for specific recommendation letters this may be “Dear Mr. Jones,” or “Dear Brenda,” while general recommendation letters can start with “To Whom it May Concern,” “Dear Hiring Manager,” or a simple “Greetings.”

Next comes the introductory paragraph. To give the hiring manager a good first impression, express your pleasure and privilege to recommend the applicant. Next, state the purpose of the letter and your relation to the applicant. Include any details, such as how you both met and the length of time you’ve known each other.

The Body  

In something as brief as a letter of recommendation, the body usually consists of both the main content and the summary. This portion should be two or three short paragraphs where you detail your thoughts about why the person is best qualified for the job. Share the candidate’s specific skills, qualities, and accomplishments, as well as any stories of when these were exemplified in the workplace.

Round off the letter body with a short summary that supports your strong recommendation. In one to two sentences state why you personally recommend the applicant and possibly even mention that you would very gladly work with them again. Phrases like “without reservation” or “speak highly of” will help create a strong summary.

The Conclusion

The concluding paragraph is where you share your contact information and offer to provide any further information or assistance. Provide your phone number, email address, and the best times the hiring company can reach you. Optionally, you can also place this under the closing signoff.

The Closing Signoff

As always, finish up your letter with a formal signoff, your name and title, and a signature. If you choose not to include a concluding paragraph in the letter, you can also place your contact details in this final section.

Letter of Recommendation Template
How to write a letter of recommendation: You may need to send a physical copy

To help with the recommendation letter process, we’ve included a template that covers all the tips above. Look through the following letter for some inspiration to help get the (virtual) ink flowing.

[Hiring Company] [Hiring Company Details]

Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. [Last Name],

It’s with pleasure that I offer my high recommendation of [applicant] for the [position] at [hiring company]. I have known [applicant] as a [relationship] at [previous company] for [length of time]. As [your position], I greatly enjoyed working with [applicant] and can personally attest to her/him being a valuable member in the company.

When we first hired [applicant] [time] ago, her/his in-depth knowledge and skill set stood out from other candidates. Right away, he/she was able to apply these in [first example]. I remember a particular instance when [second example].

During his/her time at [previous company], he/she significantly helped [notable contributions] and increased [notable outcome]. Since his/her first year with us, I saw him/her grow in [skills/experience].

Furthermore, his/her [personal qualities] made him/her a joy to work with. [He/she] is a team player, quick learner, and effective communicator.

[Applicant] would be a huge asset in any company, and I can confidently give my highest recommendation that he/she is an excellent choice for the [position].

Please feel free to contact me at [your contact information] to further discuss [applicant]’s qualifications as an employee in your company.

Best regards,

[Your Name] [Your Position]

There are many other ways to write a recommendation letter — as a coworker, as a manager, or as a supervisor. Your relation to the candidate may make a difference in the kind of recommendation you write. Look to sites such as Resume Genius or eForms for a few sample templates that can serve as a guide.

Up Close and Personal

As a third party in the job application process, writing a recommendation letter is no small task. It requires that you know the job candidate well, understand the job and company they’re applying for, and agree that the two would be a great fit.

It’s also a huge form of flattery and should be handled with a lot of care and thoughtfulness. Use this guide to help get the process going, and before you know it you’ll know how to write a letter of recommendation like a pro — and hopefully help someone get hired.

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