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5 Tips to Write the Perfect Letter of Recommendation

Christa Reed

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What is A Letter of Recommendation?

What is a letter of recommendation

A letter of recommendation, or recommendation letter, is a formal document in which someone assesses the characteristics, skills, and qualities of a peer. If you are asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone, then that person trusts you to give an accurate account of their character. What you write as a reference could make or break an opportunity for someone because the recommendation letter outlines why you think the person you are writing it for is good for the position.

So if you have been asked to write a letter of recommendation, but don’t know where to start, you are in the right place. Keep reading on to see some tips on how to write the perfect letter of recommendation.

Who Might I Have to Write A Letter of Recommendation For?

Typically if you are in a position that has supervised, managed, or been over people in one way or another, then you will likely be asked to write a letter of recommendation for someone. Prospective students and former employees are prime candidates for asking for a recommendation letter from you.

Though it is the responsibility of the seeker to ask the right people for letters of recommendation, it is important for you to know as the writer that there are some people who will not be highly impacted by your recommendation letter.

For example, though you likely know your family members and best friends very well, you may have to explain your relationship at the beginning of the letter. If your relationship explanation eludes to relatedness or friendship, then your entire recommendation letter could be perceived as being biased.

Another way your letter of recommendation could be less than fruitful is if you don’t really know the person you are writing the recommendation for.

What Do I Include in A Letter of Recommendation?

Letter of Recommendation Format
  1. Context – In the first paragraph of the recommendation letter, you should briefly state the purpose of the letter. After that, introduce yourself and explain your connection with the person you are recommending.
  2. Talk about the person – This part of the recommendation letter can have multiple paragraphs. The aim is to go into detail about the person you are recommending. Be sure to convey the candidate’s best qualities as they relate to the position the person is applying for. To make your statement more powerful, use examples and stories to paint a picture of the person’s strengths.
  3. Why you are recommending this person – Give a short synopsis on why you want to recommend this person. Don’t go into details from what you wrote earlier, but tell why you think that person would be perfect for the position.
  4. Offer to provide more information – This part of the recommendation letter is solely to provide your services in offering more information if needed. Any contact information that you have not included yet, feel free to put here.
  5. Formal letter closing– Close the letter as you would any other formal letter – Sincerely, respectfully, or cordially

5 Tips for Writing a Quality Letter of Recommendation

  1. Think Carefully Before Saying Yes

Remember: When you write a letter of recommendation for someone, you are putting your reputation on the line. What you say could have an impact on the way the reader views you and accepts what you say as truth. There are a few reasons to say no to someone who has asked you to write a letter of recommendation.

  • The person is a family member that you have never supervised or taught in a formal setting.
  • You don’t really know the person well.
  • You cannot give a strong recommendation for other reasons. (Ex: you have some unresolved grievances towards the person who asked.)
  • You do not have the time.

RELATED ARTICLES: Three Ways to Say No to a Reference Request

2. Focus on the Intent of the Letter

Recommendation letters can be written for a variety of reasons. Someone may be applying for school or someone may need a reference for a new position at a company. Either way your job is to know the reason and what the position they want entails.

When it comes to the body of the letter of recommendation, this is where your understanding of the person and position come to light. Your job is to accurately praise the person’s abilities and character based on what the position entails. You will also need to think of related experiences that the person has had that closely relates to their ability to succeed in their new situation .

After reading that, you may feel like you don’t know anyone well enough to write a letter like that, but it’s not always up to you to know the person’s whole life story. Even when you are familiar with someone, writing a recommendation letter for them may show you what aspects of their life you aren’t quite familiar with.

To help yourself write a great letter of recommendation, ask the person for documents to aid you in your writing. This could be a resume. You can also ask the person to write a couple of paragraphs on why they think they are right for the position. Lastly, you could meet with the person face to face or on a zoom call to get a better feel for the direction of the letter of recommendation.

3. Be Detailed, but Keep it Concise

The point of a recommendation letter is to show exactly why you think that person would be the perfect fit. Many say a letter of recommendation should span between 3 paragraphs and 2 pages. That may seem like a large gap, so think of this.

If your letter of recommendation is only 3 paragraphs, then are you really able to talk about at least two of the candidate’s strengths, give examples, AND tell why you think they would be a perfect fit for the job?

No. Often times, two pages is too long as well. Your ideal length for a recommendation letter should be between 3/4 of a page and a page and a half. Also remember to keep your information fresh. Don’t copy from the student’s or former employee’s resume.

4. Don’t Ignore Formatting and Editing

Make sure you don’t neglect the fundamentals of formatting your letter of recommendation. Whether you like it or not, the way you write the letter will speak to your level of credibility.

The Purdue Owl Writing Lab recommends that for letters of recommendation, you follow a business letter format. In that, be sure to eliminate hyperbolic and ambiguous phrases. This is important because hyperbolic phrases could depict you as coming off too strong and unrealistic. On the other hand, ambiguous phrases leave too much up for interpretation. Your language should be clear and direct.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Basic Business Letter

5. Follow the Submission Guidelines

This is step could make or break all of the hard work you put into writing a letter of recommendation. Above, I mentioned what the ideal length for a recommendation letter is. This is only relevant if the recommendation letter does not have submission guidelines.

Depending on where or who you are submitting the letter of recommendation to, there may be guidelines for submission. Examples include: length, due dates, where you submit it, etc. Not adhering to the guidelines could hurt the person you are writing the recommendation letter because your letter could be a key part of their school or job application.

Letter of Recommendation Template

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing on behalf of [Applicant Name] for [position with Company Name or acceptance to Institution Name].

I am [Your Name], a [your position] at [Institution or Company]. I have [number] years of experience working in [your industry or academic focus]. I first met [Applicant Name] at [Place of Meeting]. [Applicant Name]’s resilience and charisma inspired me to mentor him/her during our time together. In the past [insert time], [Applicant Name] is one individual I have worked with/mentored who uniquely stands out.

During our time together, [Applicant Name] displayed superb abilities in [skill, trait, experience, class, etc.]. During our time together, [Applicant Name]’s understanding of [key topic] advanced considerably compared to his/her peers. This showed his/her ability to absorb and apply knowledge at a high level.

[Insert personal story elaborating on key skills, trait, experience].

Though his/her technical skills have impressed me overtime, [Applicant Name] was very easy to work with because [positive trait]. His/her [positive trait] and [positive trait] were also necessary and valued by her managers, peers, and subordinates. We were often able to rely on him/her to get the job done no matter the circumstances.

I am confident that [Applicant Name] would be a great fit for your [Institution/Company]. Based on what it takes to be a [position], not only will she bring the kind of skills and experiences you’re looking for in an applicant, but she will also grow into an asset at [Institution/Company].

If you need more information or specific examples, please do not hesitate to contact me at [contact information]. A recommendation letter can only provide so much information on her character and skills. I would be happy to further elaborate on my time working with her.

Sincerely,
[Your Name, Company, and Title]

Other Letter of Recommendation Samples:

University of Central Florida Strong and Weak Recommendation Letter Sample

Purdue Owl Annotated Letter of Recommendation Sample

Conclusion

Writing a letter of recommendation for someone can be easy. Your goal is to condense the candidate’s characteristics, qualities, and achievements into a perfect, concise letter. Be sure to know the intent of the letter, be detailed, and format it correctly.

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