You may have been asked to write a letter recommending a candidate for a particular job or a specific area of study. Before you start writing the first things that come to mind, consider the following aspects of how to write a letter of recommendation. The information provided can be extremely valuable for a hiring manager or admissions officer to determine an individual's suitability. Your words could be the key to someone's success.

Are You Qualified to Provide the Recommendation?

Before agreeing to prepare a recommendation letter, consider if you are qualified to appropriately judge the candidate's skills. How well you know the person and what they are capable of is important. If you are unable to create a letter that is positive and flattering, it is acceptable to turn down the request. Knowing the person well and understanding their achievements is key.

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Customization of a Recommendation Letter

Ask the person requesting the letter to provide as much information as possible about what they are applying to. For example, if the letter is recommending them for a specific job, ask for the job description. This will help you to determine what skills the employer is looking for. You can then offer examples of how this person fulfills the job requirements.

Many academic institutions or colleges have guidelines on their website of what they are specifically looking for. This is a good place to start when drafting your ideas.

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The Introduction

Start the letter by introducing yourself and letting the reader know what your relationship is to the candidate. If you were their supervising manager, indicate both your job title and theirs. Be sure to include the length of time that you worked together. If you are providing an academic reference, include information about your position in relation to the student. For example, if you were a teacher, indicate the class or grade that you taught the student in and what the name of the school was. The information in this section will help the reader to verify information that will likely be present on the candidate's job or school application.

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Creating the Body of the Letter

The body of the recommendation letter is likely the longest part with the most detail. It can be one or multiple paragraphs, but try to keep the information concise and straightforward. Consider including the following items:

  • Job or academic performance
  • Leadership abilities
  • Qualifications
  • Ability to manage workload or timelines
  • Applicable skills
  • Teamwork capabilities

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Closing Recommendation

Once you have completed a detailed summary of what you perceive to be the candidate's best features, a general recommendation paragraph is needed. This is often just one paragraph and will include a statement about how or why you believe this person is a qualified individual. You can indicate that you would be pleased to work with them again, or that they were a memorable or exemplary student in the class.

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The conclusion section of any letter is generally brief. The point of this paragraph is to provide general information about the letter. Indicate that you are willing to answer further questions or clarify the details in the letter in a phone call or email. This shows that you are open to communication and are willing to confirm your enthusiasm for the candidate.

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Helpful Tips

There are many ways you can write a recommendation letter. Here are a few helpful tips to consider:

  • Include the current date
  • Provide only a typed letter. A handwritten document is often difficult to read.
  • Be concise. Where possible, keep the letter to one page in length, unless you are otherwise directed.
  • Stick to the timelines given to you. If one was not given, ask the candidate.
  • Offer your contact information, including a phone number or email address.

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Things to Avoid

The purpose of a letter of recommendation is to provide an honest and positive review of an individual's performance. There are a number of items that you should avoid when preparing a letter:

  • Personal information, like age or race.
  • Examples of weaknesses or criticisms.
  • Exaggeration of details.
  • Grammatical errors and typos.

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Formatting a Letter of Recommendation

Unless otherwise directed, letters generally follow an agreed-upon layout and format. This helps the reader to quickly scan a letter to find information. Be sure to include the following sections, in the order listed:

  1. Your name, title, and address, in the top left corner.
  2. Today's date.
  3. The name, title, and address of the person or organization you are sending the letter to.
  4. Greeting. For example, Dear Ms. Teacher. If you don't know the person's name, write To Whom It May Concern.
  5. Regarding line. It usually starts with Re: and is followed by a few brief words about the purpose of the letter.
  6. Body Paragraphs.
  7. Closing salutation. For example, Regards.
  8. Your signature, with your name, typed below.

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What does it mean for you?

At first, being asked to write a letter of recommendation may seem like a tedious task. You're right, it can be. But also consider that the person who asked you obviously values your opinion and your input. They likely see you as someone trustworthy enough to trust with their goals. So take a moment to enjoy your own achievements too.

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