What is a recommendation letter?
A letter of recommendation is a formal document that gives the reader a third party validation of someone’s work, skills or academic performance. It should contain specific examples of times when an applicant's personality or skill set proved to help solve a problem or improve a work experience. The purpose of a recommendation letter is to explain what you have learned about an applicant from your own experiences working with them and provide positive insights as to why they would be right for the position they are applying to.
Who needs a letter of recommendation?
A person who is applying for a job, internship, college, leadership position, or volunteer opportunity will often need to acquire a letter of recommendation in order to be considered for the position. Based on the skills, personality, and experiences you have with the applicant, you should be able to formulate their recommendation letter in regards to the position they are applying for and then submit the letter to the establishment who sent the request. This can be done through a website for submitting electronic applications, or a hard copy may need to be mailed to the applicant who would then forward the sealed letter to the organization, or sent straight to the organization.
Letter of Recommendation Expectations
Good recommendation letter provides an honest account of work related experiences with the applicant. Only accept requests for recommendation letters if you have real accounts of how the candidate performs in a work environment. Before you accept a request for a recommendation consider the following:
- Have you worked directly with the applicant?
- Have you observed the applicant interacting with colleagues and clients?
- Do you know the relevant strengths and skills of the individual?
- Can you personally elaborate on the applicant's abilities?
- Do you have specific examples of the individual’s technical experience?
- Can you provide multiple examples of positive feedback about this individual?
It’s important to take into consideration whether you can provide a quality recommendation letter or not, before you accept a request. If you do not have enough positive feedback or meaningful experiences with the applicant, it’s a good idea to let them know quickly and respectfully that you are unable to meet their request. That way they will have enough time to find an alternative person to seek recommendation.
How to request a recommendation letter?
At some point, you may be applying for a role that will need someone to write a recommendation letter for you. It’s not a bad idea to ask current and former managers, colleagues, teachers, and clients for a letter of recommendation. It should be someone you’ve had a positive work experience with who can truthfully discuss your skills and abilities.
Whoever you decide to request, speak with them first to find out if they would consider writing your recommendation, then send a formal email with necessary details. Include the job description, your resume, submission requirements, and a requested deadline. You could also send them a template like the one that’s included below. This can help expedite their process and might make them more likely to agree to your request. Try to give at lease two weeks advance notice before the letter is due to give the writer ample time to complete your recommendation letter. They might be working on multiple letters since professors have students of all levels in their careers. So ask multiple professors and give them all extra time to complete the request, it will be greatly appreciated.
Recommendation letter format
A letter of recommendation should include five items:
- A brief introduction that states who you are in terms of your personal expertise, and your relationship to the applicant.
- An overview of the applicant’s strengths as you’ve experienced them while working together.
- A personalized story that presents in detail on one or two characteristics that the applicant possesses.
- A closing statement that summarizes why the applicant would be a good fit for the opportunity.
- A signature with your name and contact information.
It’s a good idea to review the job description before writing your letter to understand what the employer is looking for in a candidate, so ask for it if the applicant hasn’t provided it. You’ll need the candidate’s resume as well, so if they haven’t sent it already ask them to send you an up-to-date resume so that you are fully prepared to write the recommendation. It’s important that you have an updated resume because it will give you a better understanding of their accomplishments and abilities since they were hired that make them the person you know today.
Tips for writing a letter of recommendation
- Stay positive and assured. A letter of recommendation should show that you believe the candidate is right for the job without hesitation. Avoid negative comments or even constructive criticism as it might suggest the candidate isn’t ready for the position.
- Use a formal letter format and tone. It’s common to use a standard business letter format for a recommendation letter structure. The tone of the letter should also remain formal and polite.
- Center your attention on the critical qualifications. Based on individual’s resume and your personal experience with them, pick the top 2-3 qualifications that align with the job description and focus on giving examples of why they model these qualifications.
- Read the request instructions critically. Look for the instructions for submission or ask the candidate how they would like you to go about submitting your letter. Carefully follow the instructions and be sure to meet the deadline request so you don’t negatively impact the candidate’s application status.
Letter of recommendation template
No matter who you are writing a letter of recommendation for, your letter will have a similar structure. Include a brief introduction, your knowledge of the applicant’s background and experience level, a unique personal story as an example, and a closing statement.
Use this template for inspiration on your letter of recommendation:
To Whom It May Concern,
It pleases me to highly recommend [Candidate Name] for [position with Company Name or acceptance to Institution Name].
My name is [Your Name], and I am a [your position] at [Institution or Company]. In my [number] years of experience in [your industry or academic focus] I have worked with many young professionals [and/or students]. [Applicant Name] is one individual I have engaged professionally with who uniquely stands out.
During our time working together, [Applicant Name] exhibited strong talents in [skill, trait, experience, class, etc.]. From the very beginning, [Applicant Name] exemplified the ideal [role] and took on new challenges that showed me [he/she/they] sought to exceed expectations in all aspects of the role.
[Insert unique personal story expanding on key skills, characteristics, and experience].
It’s not just [his/her/their] technical skills that impressed the team, however. [Applicant Name] was such a pleasure to work with because of [his/her/their] positive attitude towards everyone and [positive trait]. Because of [positive trait] and [positive trait] it’s not surprising that [Applicant Name] was valued by her peers and I, who often relied on [him/her/them] to get the job done quickly and thoroughly.
I am confident without a doubt that [Applicant Name] would be the right fit for your [Institution/Company]. Not only does [he/she] have the kind of skills and experiences you’re looking for, but I am confident [he/she/they] will quickly become an asset by helping your [Institution/Company] grow in any way [he/she/they] can.
If you would like more information about my time working with [Applicant Name], please do not hesitate to contact me at [contact information]. I would be happy to further elaborate on [his/her/their] achievements to date.
[Your Name, Company, and Title]
If you are in need of a letter of recommendation or writing one for a colleague it is important that you have a strong working relationship in order to provide them with an adequate recommendation. Don’t hesitate to say no if you haven’t worked closely enough with someone and they ask you for a letter of recommendation. Also if you are the one applying be sure to ask a manager or mentor that you have had positive experiences with.
Writing letters of recommendation can be a great way to reflect on your times with a candidate or team. It will have you thinking about your own career and how to improve your own experience and the experience of your co-workers. So say yes whenever you can to help out an applicant, you never know down the road what they might be able to do to help you or your company expand.
The Careerbliss Team
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