How To Write a Letter of Recommendation
If you are in any leadership position, you will likely have to write a letter of recommendation for an employee, coworker, student or intern.
Being asked to write a letter of recommendation means the request is from someone who respects your word and trusts your judgment. To write the best letter possible, follow along for tips, tricks, templates and more.
A letter of recommendation is a letter from a professional contact in your network — past or present — endorsing you for a job or position. Generally, reference letters are used during an application process for admissions or employment, but may be part of entry into a professional program or organization.
Letters of recommendation should speak to the candidate's personal qualities, like:
What you include in your letter of recommendation matters. Remember, you are playing a role in a decision that could change someone's future, so how you create your final product and what it includes matters.
When you are asked to complete a letter of recommendation, it's vital to have direction. While many letters are relatively standard, prompts often call for specific traits or examples about the candidate.
To write as accurately as possible, ask your subject to provide the following:
The recipient of your letter should receive personal insight about the subject. To do this, you should provide the necessary details about your relationship with the subject and paint a picture of what the recipient might find valuable.
As you draft your letter, consider what the recipient might want to know about the person in question and speak to that. Writing with a positive attitude is also best practice, no matter the purpose of the letter.
One of the best strategies to make a letter personable is to use anecdotal evidence. You can describe situations that highlight relevant character traits. You can also tell a short story that highlights the subject's personality.
Anecdotes capture the reader's attention much more than a generic list of personal qualities. Don't just mention the subject's quality; show how you've seen that quality in action.
Anecdotal evidence is a great way to tell a story, but that story can also be boosted by concrete evidence. Concrete evidence includes quantitative examples of the subject's performance.
This can be grades, achieved merits, performance history or anything else you might have data for.
If someone asks you for a letter of recommendation, you likely have a positive relationship, which is essential to highlight in your writing.
You do not need to go overboard to the point of gushing; however, you should exhibit your genuine enthusiasm for the candidate and avoid negative comments. Superlative comments can be a powerful way to highlight your positive experience with the subject.
Details make all the difference. Your writing should show who your candidate is through rich and convincing details. You should not simply list a story or statistic and move on.
Letters of recommendation are a delicate balance of showing professional affection and establishing authority. In addition, while using anecdotal and quantitative evidence, remember to keep it concise.
The recipient of your letter is likely an admissions officer or hiring manager who reads countless documents like this one. Capture their attention, get your point across and respect their time.
Finally, ensure you use a professional font to complete the formal aesthetic.
Professional fonts include:
When someone decides to enter into the job application process, it's a big deal. Whether it's someone's first job or the promotion of a lifetime, your voice in the process matters. Impress the impact this opportunity could have on the subject.
Could it pave the way for the rest of their career? Could it put them on the right academic trajectory? Does it align with their overall aspirations?
While this might seem like a no-brainer, the guidelines matter. If there is a word count, due date or specific submission form, stick to the instructions to ensure everything goes smoothly.
While it might be difficult to turn someone down, if you don't think you'll be able to give your all to a letter of recommendation, you should not write one.
Two reasons not to write a letter of recommendation are:
When writing a letter of recommendation, there are certain dos and don'ts. Now that you've seen the dos, it's time to cover what not to do when drafting your letter.
Again, your letter should show, not tell. To achieve this, avoid general language with vague statements about the subject. Broad descriptions do not help the candidate. Stick to the specific anecdotes and evidence that paint a picture of who they are.
When describing the candidate, avoid talking about basic, bare minimum skills. Showing that the subject can adhere to basic expectations does not do anything to set them apart from the crowd.
Basic expectations include:
A letter of recommendation should describe the candidate as a whole — their personal character and professional attributes. This means that you'll need to speak to your relationship and their performance. Failing to illustrate one side or the other makes for a flat, incomplete letter.
Your letter is meant to highlight the candidate, so it should not include cheeky compliments or subtle critiques. Unless the instructions specifically ask for weaknesses or potential growth areas, you should avoid mentioning any negatives.
You should introduce yourself and your relationship with the candidate at the beginning of your letter. This can give the recipient a better idea of who you are and why you are qualified to submit the letter. Establishing this introduction is vital to building the credibility of your letter.