How to Write a Recommendation Letter: Sample and Tips

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In the competitive landscape of job and academic applications, a well-written letter of recommendation can be a game-changer. Serving as a testament to your skills, achievements, and character from someone who knows you well, it provides a unique third-party insight that resumes and personal statements cannot. 

Far from being just a formality, a recommendation letter personalizes your application, showcasing your abilities and soft skills in a way that sets you apart from the competition. A meticulously composed letter not only highlights your strengths and potential but also argues persuasively why you are the perfect fit for the opportunity at hand. Ultimately, it’s a crucial tool that can unlock doors and significantly enhance your prospects for success.

In this article, we show you how to write good recommendation letters with examples. We help you share someone’s best qualities to improve their chances.

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What is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a written endorsement of a person’s skills, character, and achievements, typically authored by someone well-acquainted with their work or academic performance. This document serves as a testimony to an individual’s qualifications and potential from a reliable source who has directly observed their contributions and growth. It’s an essential component of many applications, providing a holistic view of the candidate from another person’s perspective.

Why It Is Crucial

The significance of a letter of recommendation lies in its capacity to personalize and validate the claims made in an application. It adds depth to a candidate’s profile, offering insights into their capabilities and accomplishments in a way that resumes and transcripts cannot. For decision-makers, be it hiring managers, admissions officers, or grant committees, these letters provide a nuanced understanding of the applicant, including their work ethic, interpersonal skills, and adaptability to new challenges.

Different Contexts for Use

  1. Academic Applications: Letters of recommendation are pivotal in academic settings, where they play a critical role in admissions to undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate programs. They can also be crucial for securing scholarships, research positions, and academic awards. In this context, letters often come from teachers, professors, or academic advisors who can speak to the applicant’s intellectual curiosity, academic achievements, and potential for future success in their chosen field.
  2. Professional Opportunities: In the professional realm, these letters are essential for job applications, especially in industries that value soft skills and team dynamics alongside technical abilities. Recommendations from former employers, supervisors, or colleagues can highlight an applicant’s professional accomplishments, work ethic, and ability to collaborate effectively within a team.
  3. Volunteer Positions: For volunteer roles or community service positions, letters of recommendation can attest to an individual’s commitment, empathy, leadership qualities, and impact on the community. These letters might come from leaders of nonprofit organizations, volunteer coordinators, or other significant figures in the community service sector.

Special Opportunities: Beyond traditional academic and professional settings, letters of recommendation are also valuable for special programs such as fellowships, internships, leadership programs, and more. These letters can underscore an applicant’s unique qualifications and readiness to take full advantage of the opportunity.

Before You Start Writing

Writing a letter of recommendation is a significant responsibility. It involves vouching for someone’s capabilities and character, which can impact their chances of success in their academic, professional, or personal pursuits. Before you start writing, it’s crucial to ensure you’re the right person for this task and that you have all the necessary information to write a compelling letter.

Deciding If You’re the Right Person to Write the Letter

 

  1. Evaluate Your Relationship: Consider your relationship with the person asking for the recommendation. Have you worked closely with them? Can you provide specific examples of their achievements and strengths? You should have a direct experience of their capabilities and a positive perception of their potential.
  2. Assess Your Ability to Provide a Positive Endorsement: Reflect on whether you can genuinely and enthusiastically endorse the candidate. If your experiences with the person have been anything less than positive, it might be better to politely decline than to write a letter that lacks conviction or, worse, is lukewarm.
  3. Consider the Relevance of Your Expertise: Think about whether your professional or academic background is relevant to the opportunity the person is seeking. Your insights will carry more weight if your expertise aligns with the field or position they are applying for.

 

Gathering Necessary Information

Once you’ve decided to write the letter, gathering comprehensive information about the candidate and their goals is crucial. This will ensure your letter is not only personalized but also aligned with the opportunity they are pursuing.

  1. Request a Resume or CV: This provides a snapshot of the person’s academic and professional history, achievements, skills, and experiences. It’s a useful reference for highlighting their qualifications in your letter.
  2. Ask for Specific Achievements: Request details about specific projects, accomplishments, or instances where they demonstrated exceptional skills or character. These anecdotes will add depth to your letter and make it more compelling.
  3. Understand Their Goals: Understanding the candidate’s aspirations can help you tailor the letter to support their application more effectively. Ask them about their goals for the future and why they’re pursuing this particular opportunity.
  4. Submission Details: Ensure you know the deadline for the letter and the method of submission (email, online portal, etc.). Also, ask if there are any specific requirements or questions that the letter needs to address.

Personal Traits and Skills: Inquire about the personal qualities and skills they would like you to emphasize. This might include leadership, teamwork, creativity, resilience, or specific technical skills relevant to their application.

Format for a Recommendation Letter

A well-structured recommendation letter should encompass the following elements:

  1. Introduction: Begin with a concise introduction that includes your identity, how you know the applicant, and your qualifications that enable you to recommend them. This sets the stage by establishing your credibility and connection to the applicant.
  2. Applicant’s Strengths Overview: Provide a detailed account of the applicant’s strengths as you have personally witnessed. Highlight how these strengths are relevant and beneficial to the potential employer or program, making a direct connection between the applicant’s abilities and the needs of the recipient.
  3. Personal Anecdote: Share a specific story or example that showcases one or two significant traits of the applicant. This narrative should give insight into the applicant’s character or professional capabilities, adding a personal touch to your recommendation.
  4. Closing Summary: Conclude with a strong statement that encapsulates why you believe the applicant is exceptionally suited for the particular opportunity. This part should reinforce the applicant’s qualifications and your endorsement.
  5. Signature: End the letter with your signature, followed by your printed name and contact information, making it easy for the recipient to reach out for any further dialogue.

Before drafting your letter, ensure you have the latest version of the applicant’s resume and a description of the job or program they’re applying for. This information will help you tailor your recommendation to highlight the most pertinent experiences and achievements of the applicant. Reviewing the job or program description will also guide you in emphasizing aspects of the applicant’s background that align closely with what the employer or admissions committee is seeking.

Template for a Letter of Recommendation

To Whom It May Concern:

I am delighted to offer my wholehearted endorsement of [Applicant Name] for [specific position or program] at [Company or Institution Name]. My name is [Your Name], and I hold the position of [Your Position] at [Your Company or Institution]. With over [Number] years in [Your Industry or Field of Study], I have encountered numerous professionals, yet [Applicant Name] stands out as a remarkably distinguished individual.

Throughout our interactions, [Applicant Name] consistently demonstrated outstanding [skills/traits/experiences], showcasing [his/her/their] exceptional abilities in [specific area].

When we first met, I could tell [he/she/they] was really good at [specific area], and as we worked together, [his/her/their] skills just got better. I want to share a story that shows how [Applicant Name] is great: [Insert personal story or example].

Beyond [his/her/their] technical prowess, what truly sets [Applicant Name] apart is [his/her/their] positive attitude and [positive trait]. [He/She/They] consistently fostered a collaborative and supportive environment, earning the respect and admiration of [his/her/their] peers. [His/Her/Their] [positive trait] and [positive trait] were invaluable assets, ensuring successful outcomes in our projects.

I am confident that [Applicant Name] would make a valuable addition to your team at [Company Name/Institution Name]. [He/She/They] possess the skills, experiences, and attitude necessary to excel in [position], contributing to the growth and success of [Company Name/Institution Name].

If you need more info or want to talk more about [Applicant Name], please feel free to contact me at [Your Contact Info]. I would be delighted to provide additional insights into [his/her/their] capabilities and achievements.

Sincerely,

[Your Name] [Your Position] [Your Company/Institution]

Sample Recommendation Letter

To Whom It May Concern

I am writing to highly recommend John Smith for the position of data analyst at XYZ Solutions.

I am Emily Johnson, a department head at Riverbank Analytics, with 10 years of experience in data analysis and project management. I have had the opportunity to work with numerous professionals, but John Smith truly stands out.

During our collaboration, John demonstrated exceptional proficiency in technical applications such as Tableau, SQL, Python, and various data visualization tools. His grasp of data analysis concepts and tools exceeded that of his peers, which was evident from the outset.

John’s adaptability became apparent early on. Despite limited experience with SQL, he dedicated extra hours to mastering data querying techniques. His efforts resulted in efficiently extracted data for analysis and visualization, earning praise from clients for the quality of work delivered.

Beyond his technical skills, John’s positive attitude and commitment to meeting deadlines made him a pleasure to work with. His can-do approach and ability to foster teamwork were highly valued by both myself and his peers, who often relied on him to deliver results.

I am confident that John would be a valuable addition to XYZ Solutions. His skills and experiences align perfectly with the requirements of the position, and I have no doubt he will contribute significantly to the company’s growth and success.

For further information or specific examples, please feel free to contact me at [Your Contact Information]. I am more than willing to provide additional insights into John’s talents and achievements.

Sincerely,

Emily Johnson

Regional Manager 

Mountain View Unlimited

Writing Tips for Recommendation Letters

Here are some tips for writing a letter of recommendation:

  1. Maintain a Positive Tone: Ensure your letter confirms your belief that the person is an excellent candidate for the job without any reservations. Avoid negative comments and use impactful language to make a positive impression on the reader.
  2. Use a Standard Business Format: Write your letter using a standard business letter format and maintain a formal and polite tone throughout. If possible, use your organization’s letterhead. Aim for a length of one to two pages.
  3. Highlight Key Qualifications: Focus on the candidate’s most important qualifications by discussing two or three of their most relevant achievements as per the job description. Provide specific examples to demonstrate their suitability for the role.
  4. Follow Instructions: Follow any instructions provided by the candidate regarding how to submit the letter and adhere to any deadline requests to avoid any negative impact on their application status.
  5. Proofread Carefully: Pay close attention to spelling, including individual and company names. Consider reading the letter out loud or asking a trusted friend or colleague to review it for any grammatical errors or mistakes.

When requesting a recommendation letter:

  1. Choose the Right Recommender: Consider asking former managers, colleagues, teachers, mentors, clients, or vendors who can verify your skills, traits, and work ethic and with whom you’ve had a positive working relationship.
  2. Speak with Them First: Have a conversation with the potential recommender before sending a formal email. Discuss your request and provide them with more details, including your resume, the job description, submission details, and the requested deadline.
  3. Provide a Template: Consider providing the recommender with a template to work from, which can help reduce their workload and increase their likelihood of agreeing to your request.


Tip: Make your request at least two weeks before the recommendation letter is due to allow ample time for writing, as recommenders may be working on several letters simultaneously.

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