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Writing letters of recommendation

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Writing letters of recommendation
August 18, 2019 Wedding Anniversary Wishes 1 comment

A letter of recommendation should have a few strong, personalized examples of your positive interactions with the person you're recommending.

Anyone who’s applied for a job knows how important recommendation letters can be to getting hired. While you've probably asked for a reference letter in the past, you may be less familiar with writing one. If someone asks you for a reference, how can you produce a great letter that will help your employee, colleague, or friend get hired?

To help you through the writing process, we’re providing nine samples of effective letters of recommendation (scroll down to skip to the samples!). By reading through these examples, you’ll gain a clear understanding of how to structure your own letters.

Before getting to the free recommendation letter samples, let’s briefly review the role that reference letters play in the hiring process. Why are they important, and what makes some stand out over others?


Why Are Recommendation Letters Important?

Many employers request recommendation letters to help them decide who to hire or internally promote. Throughout the hiring process, the applicant strives to present herself in the best light. Beyond the interview and resume, hiring managers look to recommendation letters to confirm the candidate’s qualifications and to gain insight from an outside party.

The hiring manager wants to know what experiences the candidate will bring to the new role, how she’ll contribute to the company or organization, and how she’ll behave in the day-to-day. Recommendation letters can point to a candidate’s future performance by talking about her past achievements.

Reference letters can also shed light on what it’s like to manage, work with, or, in the case of a character reference, be friends with the person under consideration. They complement the candidate’s story and suggest what she’ll bring to the table in her next job.

If you get asked to write a letter for someone, it’s safe to assume you want to do a good job. Helping someone get hired is not just a satisfying good deed, but it’s also good professional karma! So how can you turn those good intentions into a stand-out employee letter of recommendation?

Each letter will, of course, be different, but good letters share certain key features. Read on to learn about three important characteristics of strong reference letters.

Your recommendation letter's not the time to be cagey about your identity! The hiring manager wants to know who you are and why you're qualified to recommend the applicant.


What Makes a Recommendation Letter Stand Out? 3 Key Features

Strong letters give positive descriptions of a candidate’s skills in a concise and powerful way. Beyond using language that's clear and error-free, what elements should your recommendation letter include to be effective?

As you write your letter, make sure it does the following:


#1: Explains Why You’re Qualified to Recommend the Candidate

In order to hold weight, a recommendation letter should come from a reputable source. If an employer wants a professional reference, then the writer of that letter probably worked with the candidate in a supervisory capacity. Some employers will also be interested in letters from a colleague or, occasionally, a friend, neighbor, or family member. Most letters, though, will be written by a supervisor, manager, or boss of some sort.

In the first paragraph, you should explain who you are and how you know the candidate. How long did you work with her and in what capacity? By explaining your relationship, you show that you’re qualified to give an honest assessment.

If someone who feels like a relative stranger asks you to write a letter, you might consider declining or recommending someone else to write it. If you didn’t get to know the candidate’s work performance or only did so in a way completely unrelated to the new position, then you might not be able to provide a helpful letter of recommendation from employer to employee.

The best letters are written by people who can speak to the candidate’s skills and accomplishments. Make sure to state clearly in the beginning of your letter who you are and why your opinion matters.


#2: Customized to the New Position

While you should speak to the candidate’s accomplishments in her past role, you should also show why she’d make a good fit in the next one. Even if the candidate’s making a career change, you can explain why she’ll be able to do well in the new industry.

Here’s where open communication with the applicant is important. She should share the job description so you have a clear understanding of the position’s requirements. As the writer, you’re not expected to do much research on the new job. The candidate should provide you with everything you need to know to customize your letter.

By drawing on this information, you can express confidence that the candidate will succeed in the new role. Then when the hiring manager reads your letter, she’ll feel reassured that the candidate would make a good fit.


#3: Uses Specific Examples and Anecdotes

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your letter should provide specific examples about the candidate. Don’t just list adjectives like, “friendly, intelligent, and hard-working”; instead, present circumstances in which the candidate demonstrated those qualities. To borrow a favorite phrase of English teachers, “show, don’t just tell.”

Not only will examples point to the value the candidate brought to your organization or company, but they’ll also paint a picture of how she works in day-to-day operations. Using two to three specific anecdotes in your letter will boost its level of persuasiveness. It will also sidestep a common rec letter trap: becoming a generic list of cliches.

Just as you should only write a recommendation letter if you feel qualified to assess the candidate, you should also only write it if you can provide a great one. While you don’t want to go over the top and sound insincere, your letter should be a strongly positive endorsement.


Want to provide a strong recommendation for your employee, but don't have the time to craft the perfect letter?

PrepScholar's new recommendation tool, SimpleRec, takes you from good intentions and a blank page to a fully written and formatted letter of recommendation in under 5 minutes. All you need to do is give us some simple pieces of information about your employee and your experience working with them, and we'll do the rest.

Try out SimpleRec risk-free today:


Sample Recommendation Letters

As you read through the nine free job recommendation letters below, notice how they all share the three key features described above, even though they differ in terms of their source and target audience. Below are nine sample recommendation letters, each followed by an analysis of what it does well!


After checking out the above samples of recommendation letters, read on for some final thoughts on how to write an excellent letter of recommendation for an employee, coworker, or friend. 


Now that you've got all the building blocks, you can put them together into a powerful letter of recommendation!


Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation: Final Thoughts

While the above samples of recommendation letters will help guide you through the letter writing process, they can’t look exactly like your final product. Writing a letter is a significant undertaking, as it requires you to customize your words to the candidate and make your letter unique. Even though the specifics will vary, strong letters of recommendation do have certain features in common. Each letter should...

Use an Official Format

The sample letters show the proper format for a recommendation letter. They have the employer’s name, position, company, and company’s address at the top. To give one example, here's the header for recommendation letter sample #1:


Ms. Greta Johanssen
Sales Manager
Streambase Corp.
66 Western Boulevard
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87500

You should also use official letterhead that has your name and contact information across the top, in whatever way you've chosen to present it. Each letter is addressed to a specific person, a greeting that’s more personal than, “Dear Hiring Manager.” Typically, paragraphs are single-spaced with a double space in between each one.

Finally, every letter concludes with an invitation to contact the writer for any further information. Then the writer may include her position, company, phone number, and email below her name.


Start with a Strong Opener

The strongest letters start out with an immediate statement of support. They might say, “It’s my honor,” “It’s my pleasure,” or “I’m very pleased to provide this letter of recommendation for Joe.” Stating the obvious with a sentence like, “I’m writing to recommend Joe,” looks weak beside a more enthusiastic opener.

In the first paragraph, explain who you are and why you’re qualified to recommend the candidate. Write a line or two of praise about her professional and personal strengths, perhaps with a summary of the main points you’ll present in the rest of the letter.


Include Two to Three Specific Examples

As mentioned above, strong letters typically include two to three body paragraphs with specific anecdotes about the candidate. They don’t just describe the applicant’s great qualities and accomplishments; they give examples and prove to her prospective employer that she’s made achievements in the past that predict future success.

You might talk about a project or responsibility of the applicant or the value she’s brought to your company. Consider relevant qualities like flexibility, initiative, leadership, growth, collaboration, interpersonal skills, and/or ability to perform within a certain environment or culture.


To Sum Up...

Depending on your relationship with the candidate, you might focus more on her work performance or personal character in your recommendation letter. An employer will focus more heavily on professional skills while a coworker may add personal qualities.

A friend or neighbor providing a character reference would produce the most personal letter. It falls upon the candidate to choose her recommenders wisely and to share any relevant information about the prospective position to help them write the best letter they can.

As long as you incorporate the key features discussed above and take the time to make your letter positive and specific, you’ll provide a strong recommendation letter that will help your employee, colleague, or friend get hired. And who knows - perhaps in a year or two, she’ll be writing a recommendation letter for you!


What's Next?

Are you tasked with writing a recommendation letter for a student applying to college? If so, check out these samples of recommendation letters from teachers and counselors, along with additional writing tips and a thorough recommendation letter template!


Want to provide a strong recommendation for your employee, but don't have the time to craft the perfect letter?

PrepScholar's new recommendation tool, SimpleRec, takes you from good intentions and a blank page to a fully written and formatted letter of recommendation in under 5 minutes. All you need to do is give us some simple pieces of information about your employee and your experience working with them, and we'll do the rest.

Try out SimpleRec risk-free today:


Finish your letter of recommendation fast with free downloadable templates that cover a variety of situations, with advice on writing great.

Letter of Recommendation Templates – Samples and Examples

writing letters of recommendation

Things to Keep in Mind

It is important to ask yourself if you’re able to write the student a meaningful and positive letter. If you feel that you don’t know the student well enough or don’t have enough to share, then your letter may end up hurting their chances to win the scholarship. Don’t hesitate to turn down writing the letter if you feel this way.

If you feel like you don’t know the student well enough, there are a few things you can do. You can ask the student for a copy of his or her resume or set up a meeting with the student to learn about their interests.

Keep in mind that some websites tell students to write the letter of recommendation on their own and ask their recommender to sign it. So, don’t be surprised if your student makes this request. If your student does prefer to write it and have you sign it, remember that you don’t have to sign something that isn’t realistic.

Finally, you should ask the student how to submit the letter. Be sure to follow all the requirements, including correct format, and where and when to send it.

Remember, your goal is to make the student stand out as a top candidate that the scholarship committee would want to invest in. So, make sure that you follow all the instructions to make the student look professional and punctual.

A Sample Scholarship Recommendation Letter

To Whom It May Concern,

It is my great pleasure to recommend Maria for the HENAAC Scholarship. I got to know Maria as her 11th grade AP biology teacher at Mark Twain High School. Maria was also a member of the science club which I am the head of, during her sophomore, junior, and senior year.

From the first day of class, Maria impressed me greatly with her focus and determination. She never hesitated to ask for help when the course material wasn’t clear and would stay after school for additional assistance. She showed great interest in the course and her passion for the field of science is evident.

I was also very impressed by the way she worked with her classmates. Maria got along well with everyone. She is both caring, respectful, and patient. She often sat with other students who needed extra help and explained to them the concepts they didn’t understand.

Maria is enrolled at the University of Michigan and will be starting in the fall of 2019. She plans to major in biology. It is her hopes and dreams to go to medical school following her undergraduate degree.

There is no doubt in my mind that Maria will succeed in whatever she path she chooses to take. She was one of my most motivated students who never succumbed to the pressure of school work and external commitments.  

Maria comes from a family of immigrants and will be the first one in her family to get a college degree. Her parents work very hard to support the family, but finances are a big strain on her family. Maria worked at a coffee shop during all four years of high school as well as babysat to help her parents out. She also helped take care of her brother who is 6 years younger than her.

Maria is very proud of her Hispanic roots. She was a member of the Hispanic club for all four years of high school. She hopes to encourage other Hispanic students to go to college and enter the field of science.

Her hard work and effort will get her very far in life and there is no doubt in my mind that she will succeed. She is very deserving of this scholarship and will greatly contribute to any community that she’s a part of.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions at [email protected]


Julie Randalls

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Writing a Reference Letter (With Examples)

writing letters of recommendation

Tips that will help you write a recommendation letter

We have compiled some power tips that can help you get the style, tone, content, and presentation of your recommendation letter just right:

  1. Introduce yourself and state your position.
  2. Say how you know the candidate and how long you have known him or her.
  3. Outline the candidate's skills that are relevant for the position, and any relevant experience.
  4. Give a brief description of his or her personal qualities, for example, helpful, calm, etc.
  5. Mention how the person interacts with others, for example, a good team player, considerate of colleagues, etc.
  6. Say why, in your opinion, the candidate is suitable for the position and what you believe he or she could offer the organization.
  7. Emphasize anything outstanding about the candidate. For example: What are their particular talents?
  8. Mention any important gaps in the candidate's skills or knowledge.

The person you are writing the letter for (the candidate) has asked for your recommendation as he or she feels you know him or her sufficiently well. The candidate believes you would be pleased to support his or her application. These tips are for a generic recommendation letter, but they can also be applied to writing a college recommendation letter for an academic position or an employee recommendation letter to help them land a top job in the business world. Your aim should be to provide support by giving a positive but balanced summary of the person and his or her skills and qualities.

Strike a balance in your letter of recommendation

It is important that your letter be written in a balanced manner. Although the focus of your recommendation letter should be on the good things about the candidate, the person you are writing to needs to know if the candidate needs particular help in any area. You may be concerned about writing something that seems negative, but as long as you present your views in a positive way, highlighting an area where the candidate needs to improve, your comment should not be detrimental.

For example, imagine you are writing the recommendation letter for a student (let's call him John) who has difficulties meeting deadlines. You have already talked to John about this, and he is now working on his time management and organizational skills. You feel it is right to mention this in the recommendation letter as it is a fairly big problem for John, and you know he will need ongoing support while he develops these skills.

One way to approach this could be to write:

"John has many skills and qualities that I have mentioned above. However, to ensure he can achieve his long-term goals, he will need further support to develop his time management and organizational skills. He has been working hard to improve these skills over the last year, and I have already seen some improvement."

Remember, your reputation for giving an honest recommendation is also important.

Recommendation letter format

Now we have looked at the content; what about the recommendation letter format?

The letter should be a standard formal letter with your contact details and the date at the top of the letter. Times New Roman font always looks very professional, and the font size should be 11 or 12 point. You should address the recommendation letter directly to the person responsible for the application or to the Human Resources department if you don't have a name (in the case of a company). In the case of other types of organizations, you can address the letter "To Whom It May Concern." However, it is always best to get the candidate to provide you with a contact name if possible.

Try not to write an excessively long letter of recommendation. A page should be sufficient, as the candidate will also have completed an application form and/or submitted a resume or curriculum vitae.

Be mindful of your tone

The tone of a recommendation letter should be professional, with content that is easy to read and clear in meaning. You should show the reader that you are approachable and would be pleased to provide more help or information. You can do this by adding the following sentence at the end of your letter:

"Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any further information."

Make an impression with the presentation of your recommendation letter

Sometimes it may help to look at a recommendation letter example to see exactly how this letter should look. And nothing looks more unprofessional than a recommendation letter with spelling, grammar, or punctuation mistakes, and poor attention to detail, so consider having it professionally proofread before sending it in.

Image source: Bench Accounting/

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Sometimes a reference letter is known as a “recommendation letter”. It is a formal document, and should be typed and written in a serious and business-like style.

Recommendation Letters: Tips, Tricks, and Advice

writing letters of recommendation

Letter of Recommendation Overview

One of the most satisfying evaluation tasks is writing letters of recommendation for your students. When you write letters of recommendation, you are not just evaluating the students’ performance in your class, contribution to your research, or potential for future work; you are also directly helping them achieve their personal and professional goals.

Deciding If You’re Right for the Job

You may be asked to write a letter of recommendation for graduate school, a summer job, or full-time employment. First ask yourself if you know the student well enough to write a helpful recommendation. What are your impressions of that student? Can you be honest in writing a letter? If you have reservations, be straightforward with the student and explain why it would be better if the student requested a letter from another source. If you have a positive opinion about the student, put in the effort to learn as much as you need to about him or her in order to write a compelling letter.

A Few Points to Remember

  • Set up an appointment to meet with the student, asking him or her to bring a resume, a transcript, and any outstanding work from your class. If the student is applying to graduate or professional school, you might ask him or her to bring the personal statement, even in rough draft form. The resume and transcript can provide you with information about the student’s background, in addition to insights into his or her interests and activities outside your class.
  • Use the appointment time to question the student more about his or her specific purpose (e.g., “Why are you going on to graduate school?” or “How does a full-time job as a newspaper reporter relate to your long-term career goals?”)
  • Have the student give you all of the logistics you’ll need to submit the letter, along with the date by which the letter is needed.
  • Try to write the letter as soon after this meeting as possible, while the information is still fresh in your mind. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can forget the important details necessary for a strong letter.
  • Use a standard business letter format on your department stationery or the form provided by the Career Development Center (if the student is opening a placement file).

The Office of Undergraduate Advising and Research (UAR) provides a list of guidelines for writing recommendations for students applying to graduate programs. Letters are generally one typed page and contain the following information:

  • Your relationship to the applicant and length of time you have known him or her.
  • Specific details about the applicant’s skills; past work for you or present job responsibilities; strengths or weaknesses; any unusual aspects that might contribute to or hinder the applicant’s performance; and motivation. Be vivid and concrete, but do not exaggerate or inflate. You want to make the student stand out to the degree he or she deserves, but you also have to preserve your credibility as a recommender.
  • Comments on how the above information relates to the student’s choice of graduate program or job opening. When writing to a prospective employer, translate academic skills into business skills (e.g., a student’s ability to use library facilities for independent research demonstrates curiosity, initiative, and the capacity to work independently). Stress the potential of the individual and why that person is qualified for the job or admission to a graduate program.
  • Your title and telephone number or address where you can be reached.

Keep a copy of the letter for your files. Employers may call to clarify information, the same student may come back to ask for another letter, or it may help you get started when you need to write a letter for another student. Also ask the student to keep you up to date on his or her application status and final employment or school decision. Although the results will not be a clear indication of whether your letter helped, good news will keep up your motivation; the student will also appreciate your interest.

Writing letters of recommendation can be time consuming, but with practice you will soon develop your style and system. Remember that to be where you are, others went to the same trouble for you; this is your chance to reciprocate.

WATCH THE VIDEO ON THEME: Writing a Strong Recommendation Letter

In simplest terms, a letter of recommendation is a letter that makes a person writing the letter of recommendation has been in an academic or working.

writing letters of recommendation
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