What is a letter of recommendation?
A letter of recommendation is a formal document that validates someone’s work, skills or academic performance. You may be asked to prepare a recommendation letter for someone who is applying for a job, internship, college or university, leadership position or volunteer opportunity. The purpose of a recommendation letter is to corroborate what you have learned about the applicant and provide additional positive details about their performance or habits.
Recommendation Letter Format
1. Introduction and statement of recommendation
2. List of specific reasons you are recommending them to the position
3. Personal story with evidence of their qualities (soft and hard skills)
4. Closing statement with contact information
An honest recommendation provides the recipient with a personalized account of your experiences with the applicant. You should have at least some knowledge of how the candidate acts and performs in a work environment. Consider the following before you accept a request for a recommendation:
- Have you worked with or directly observed the applicant?
- Do you know relevant strengths and skills you can personally elaborate on?
- Do you have specific examples of the individual’s work?
Can you provide positive feedback about this individual?
It’s important to consider whether or not you can provide a quality recommendation letter before accepting a request. If you do not have enough experience with or positive stories to tell about the applicant, let them know quickly and respectfully that you are unable to meet the request. This way they have plenty of time to find an alternative solution.
How to ask for a recommendation letter
At some point, you may need to ask someone to write a recommendation letter for you. Consider asking former managers, colleagues, teachers, mentors, clients or vendors for a letter of recommendation. They should also be someone you’ve had a positive working relationship with who can thoughtfully discuss your skills and abilities.
Whoever you decide to ask, speak with them first about your request, then send a formal email with more details. Include your resume, the job description, submission details and a requested deadline. You might also send them the template that’s included below. This can help lessen their workload and could even make them more likely to agree to your request. Try to ask at least two weeks before the letter is due to give ample time to complete your recommendation letter, as they may be working on multiple letters concurrently. This is especially the case for professors.
Recommendation letter format
Your letter of recommendation should include five items:
- A brief introduction that states who you are, your relationship to the applicant and your personal experience or expertise.
- An overview of the applicant’s strengths as you’ve experienced them and as they relate to the recipient.
- A personal story that elaborates on one to two traits the applicant possesses.
- A closing statement that summarizes why the individual you are recommending would be a good fit for the opportunity.
A signature that includes your name and contact information.
If the candidate hasn’t provided you with an up-to-date resume and the job description, ask them to send those so that you are fully prepared to write the recommendation. You can use their resume to get a full understanding of their experiences and achievements.
You should review the job description to understand what the employer is looking for in a candidate. Use the description to decide what you should include from their resume and your personal experiences working with them.
Tips for writing a recommendation letter
- Keep it positive. Your letter should confirm that you believe the person is a strong candidate for the job with no reservations. Avoid any comments that might suggest otherwise.
- Use a standard business letter format and tone. You can use the template below or a standard business letter format to write your letter. Your tone should also remain formal and polite.
- Focus on the most important qualifications. For the highest impact, discuss two or three of the candidate’s achievements that are most relevant to the job description and provide specific examples to illustrate their fitness for the role.
Follow the request instructions. Ask the candidate how you should submit your letter. Strictly follow the instructions and deadline request to avoid negatively affecting their application status.
Letter of recommendation template
Whether you are writing a letter of recommendation for students or working professionals, your letter should have a similar structure. You should include a brief introduction, the applicant’s background and experience, a personal story and a closing statement.
Download our free template of a recommendation letter you can send, or use the following recommendation letter template as inspiration when drafting your own:
To Whom It May Concern:
It is my pleasure to strongly recommend [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] and have seen many young professionals come and go. [Applicant Name] is one individual I have worked with who uniquely stands out.
During our time together, [Applicant Name] displayed great talents in [skill, trait, experience, class, etc.]. When we first met, I was immediately impressed with [Applicant’s Name], but during the time we worked together, her understanding of [key topic] grew far more than that of her peers.
[Insert personal story elaborating on key skills, trait, experience].
It’s not just her technical skills that impress me, however. [Applicant Name] was a joy to work with because of her amazingly positive attitude and [positive trait]. Her [positive trait] and [positive trait] were also necessary and valued not just by myself, but by her peers, who often relied on her to get the job done.
I am absolutely confident that [Applicant Name] would be a great fit for your [Institution/Company]. Not only will she bring the kind of skills and experiences you’re looking for in an applicant, but she will also quickly become an asset and help your [Institution/Company] grow in any way she can.
If you need more information or specific examples, please do not hesitate to contact me at [contact information]. As a recommendation letter likely only provides a snapshot of her talents and achievements, I would be happy to further elaborate on my time working with her.
[Your Name, Company, and Title]
Letter of recommendation example
There are many formats recommendation letters can have. Here’s a specific example of what a completed letter may look like for a job applicant using the above framework:
To Whom It May Concern:
It is my pleasure to strongly recommend Annie Chiu for a position as a data analyst for L&Q International.
I am Robert Cunningham, a regional manager at Mountain View Unlimited. I have 15 years of experience working as a statistician and client services specialist and have seen many young professionals come and go. Annie Chiu is one individual I have worked with who uniquely stands out.
During our time together, Annie displayed great talents in technical applications, such as ArcGIS, R coding, Python and several other data visualization tools. When we first met, I was immediately impressed with Annie and the technical skills she had on day one, but during the time worked together, her understanding of data analysis and the tools of the trade grew far more than that of her peers.
My first experience with Annie’s adaptability came not long after she was hired. Last year, we had one client who sent data in Excel that needed extensive cleanup. At that time, Annie’s experience with Excel was limited, but she worked extra hours to learn how to properly clean up data in Excel through the use of functions. Within the week, the client’s data was properly formatted so that it could be effectively analyzed and visualized. Annie even handled the data visualization with skill and the client had nothing but praise for the end result.
It’s not just her technical skills that impress me, however. Annie was a joy to work with because of her amazingly positive attitude and eagerness to stick tightly to deadlines. Her can-do attitude and team-building skills were also necessary and valued not just by myself, but by her peers, who often relied on her to get the job done.
I am absolutely confident that Annie would be a great fit for L&Q International. Not only will she bring the kind of skills and experiences you’re looking for in an applicant, but she will also quickly become an asset and help L&Q International grow in any way she can.
If you need more information or specific examples, please do not hesitate to contact me at 555-123-4567, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. As a recommendation letter likely only provides a snapshot of her talents and achievements, I would be happy to further elaborate on my time working with her.
Mountain View Unlimited
Popular types of recommendation letters
Here are popular types of recommendation letters for specific situations:
Customizing a general recommendation letter according to these common situations could help you better support the applicant in their career development.