A Complete Guide to Writing a Letter of Recommendation (Template Included!)
Most people do not get to write a letter of recommendation every day, so it’s not too surprising if one isn’t good at it.
A letter of recommendation is usually written on behalf of an applicant, validating his/her past professional performance. It is a formal document that discusses the applicant’s suitability for a particular role.
If someone requests to you to write a letter of recommendation for him/her, HackerTrail has come up with this nifty guide that will help you turn an empty page into a proper testimonial.
Table of Contents
The Basics of Writing a Recommendation Letter
Since you’re still reading this, we're guessing you don’t have much experience in writing a letter of recommendation. Don’t worry, we’ve got your back.
1. Understand the purpose of the letter
Before you start writing a recommendation letter, you should have a clear idea of its purpose. The letter's contents will depend on its purpose. Ask yourself specific questions like “What position, course or program the person is applying for,” “Whom should you address the letter to” and “What areas should you highlight while recommending the applicant.”
Once you have answers to these questions, you are more likely to write a more insightful and effective letter of recommendation. Imagine, one of your former colleagues is trying to get a job at his/her dream company. You can highlight the person’s professional etiquette, dedication towards work and skillset while writing a recommendation letter. If the job is for a leadership role, you should highlight his/her leadership ability and decision-making skills.
2. Take some time to recall what you know about the applicant
The next thing you should do is try to refresh your memories regarding past work experiences and observations of the applicant. If you have supervised a project that he/she had been a part of, it will be easier for you to comment on the person’s professional efficacy. Try to recall what you know about this person and take note of all the points which you think will be relevant while writing the letter of recommendation.
Try to answer the following questions as you refresh your memories of that person
- How do you know this person and what was your working relationship?
- What projects did he/she do under your supervision?
- Was there any major incident that highlighted how valuable the person can be as an employee?
- What are the major qualities of the person that you can vouch for?
Also, if you can recall any extraordinary trait of that person that you have witnessed in person, you can mention that as well. Answering these questions will help you develop a strong letter of recommendation.
3. Understand the Format of a Recommendation Letter
Every formal letter comes with a specific format. Recommendation letters are no exception. So, once you have enough material for the letter, it is time to put it in a proper format. Here are the major elements of a letter of recommendation format:
- Introduction: This is the section where you introduce yourself to the recipient of the letter and mention your relationship with the applicant. You should also briefly mention your personal experience with the applicant.
- Overview: In this section, you need to give an overview of the applicant’s positive qualities that you have witnessed and how they are relevant to the course or job role he/she is applying for.
- Storytelling: Mention an incident where a few relevant skills and qualities of the applicant played a crucial role. Since you have a limited number of words to spare, choose the personal story carefully for maximum impact.
- Summary: This is the concluding part where you need to summarise your justification for recommending the applicant for the opportunity with a closing statement. The statement should tell why you think the person is a good fit for the job. Add your contact information here in case the employer has further questions.
- Signature: Like any other formal letter, end this letter of recommendation with your signature and name.
It will be much simpler for you to structure your content for the letter when you have a clear idea of the letter format. You should also ask the applicant for his/her updated resume as well as the job description, so that you can better personalise your letter of recommendation.
4. Make the Recommendation Letter More Relatable
Before we get to the letter of recommendation samples and templates, here are a few final points. Even though it is a formal letter, your letter should not sound mechanical that lacks the human touch. Here are some suggestions to make the letter more relatable:
- Offer context: While you mention an incident or give examples of how brilliant the applicant is, spare one or two sentences describing the context to each of those instances. This will make your letter easier to comprehend.
- Be authentic: Hiring companies receive dozens of recommendation letters for each role, especially if it’s a well-known brand. Make sure to use your own authentic, natural voice while writing the letter. Avoid simply copying text-by-text from a sample and add your own words to make the letter more impactful.
- Be honest: You should never lie in the letter of recommendation to make the applicant look good. Write the letter with honesty and work with all the facts and observations that are true for the applicant.
These hacks will allow you to develop an impactful letter of recommendation. To further help you in writing a recommendation letter, here are some actual samples below:
Letter of Recommendation Samples
These letter of recommendation samples are written using fictional names and information. Use it for reference, but do not copy the content as it can lead to inaccuracy as well as plagiarism.
Letter of Recommendation Template to an Employer
Dear [recipient’s name], or To whom it may concern:
It is my pleasure to enthusiastically recommend [Applicant Name] for [Position with Company Name].
I am [Your Name], a [Your Position] at [Company Name]. I have [Number] years of experience working as [Your Profession] and have guided young professionals in accomplishing their goals. [Applicant Name] is one such individual I have worked with who has made quite an impression on me with his/her unique qualities.
During our time together, [Applicant Name] showed great skills and knowledge in [experience, class, etc.]. When I first saw him/her, I noticed how brilliant he/she was at [work, topic or trait]. Later, when I got the opportunity to work with him/her, I realized that he/she was way ahead of his/her peers.
[Insert personal story, elaborating on key skills, qualities or experiences of the applicant].
Apart from the [Applicant]’s [skill, quality or trait mentioned in the last paragraph], he/she was [another major quality, skill or attribute of the applicant] as well. In my opinion, these skills/knowledge/attributes make him/her a great asset to the class/team. His/her was an inspiration to the rest of the team to do better in their respective work.
I am confident that [Applicant Name] would be a great fit for [Company]. He/she has all the necessary skills and experiences/knowledge you are looking for in an applicant. I believe [Applicant Name] will prove his/her worth if you choose to give him/her a chance.
If you need more information about [Applicant Name], do not hesitate to contact me. I would be more than happy to elaborate further on my time working with him/her.
[You Contact Info]
A Sample Letter of Recommendation for a Job Seeker
Dear Hiring Manager,
It is my pleasure to strongly recommend Jessica Gordon for the position of Senior Marketing Associate at ABC Inc.
I am Josh Langford, an Assistant Vice-President at XYZ. I have 10 years of experience in marketing and customer relationship and have led several teams of talented young professionals. Jessica Gordon is one of those professionals I have worked with who has made a major impression on me with her dedication toward work.
During her tenure at XYZ, I was her reporting manager, and I had the opportunity to closely observe her performance at work. She had some great contributions to our past marketing campaigns. Her suggested email marketing strategies and influencer marketing ideas were a great success. She had a great understanding of the target audience and could sense what strategies would work for specific groups of people.
My first experience with Jessica’s innovative thinking ability came shortly after she was hired at XYZ. One of our new clients asked for a unique strategy to promote their new brand. At that time, we asked every member of the marketing team to pitch ideas that they thought were out of the box. While some of them came with fairly nice ideas, Jessica’s idea of collaborating with Tiktok influencers in a specific way was something that no one had tried before.
Apart from her innovative thinking ability, she is also extremely punctual and delivered all her individual and team projects on time. She was one of the most reliable employees in the company whom you could trust with any marketing-related tasks. She was also a great team player and ensured that all her teammates could meet the deadline.
I can confidently say that Jessica would be a great fit for ABC Inc. With her skills and expertise, she will quickly become an asset and help your company reach new heights.
If you need more information, please feel free to contact me by email at email@example.com. I would be happy to discuss more about her talents and achievements during her time at XYZ.
Assistant Vice President – Marketing,
As mentioned earlier, you can use these samples for reference. However, it is important to give your own voice to the letter, instead of copying the content of the samples mentioned here or any other samples available on the internet. There are several other dos and don’ts that you should follow while writing a letter of recommendation.
Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Letter of Recommendation
Now that you have a clear idea of what a letter of recommendation looks like, it is time for you to try your hands at writing one. However, you need to follow the dos and don’ts mentioned below:
What to Do in a Letter of Recommendation
i. Begin the Letter by Introducing Yourself
Every time you write a letter of recommendation, you should start writing it by introducing yourself and describing your relationship with the applicant. This will establish that you have direct interactions and experience with the applicant.
ii. Describe the Positive Qualities of the Applicant
This is one of the basics of writing a letter of recommendation and should never be left out. Highlight the positive qualities and achievements of the applicant that you have personally witnessed. Make sure that the mentioned qualities and achievements are relevant to the program or job role he/she is applying to.
iii. Cite Specific Examples of the Applicant’s Work
While you share a personal story that highlights a particular skill or attribute of the applicant, make sure you are giving a very specific example. This will give depth to your recommendation letter. Writing generic content in the letter will not help the applicant.
iv. Be Honest
While it is possible to praise the applicant a little bit while recommending him/her for a program or job, you should always be honest and truthful in your assessment of the individual. It will be embarrassing for the applicant as well as you as the person recommending him/her if the admission committee or recruiting team finds out that you have exaggerated the facts or lied in your letter.
v. Maintain a Professional Tone
While it is important to be authentic and honest while writing the letter, you should write the letter in a formal, professional language. If you write in an informal tone, the recipient of the letter may not take your recommendation seriously, which will beat the whole purpose of writing a letter of recommendation.
vi. Remind Them That You Can Answer Further Questions
In your recommendation letter’s conclusion, show your willingness to further discuss your experience with the applicant. You should also mention that you are fine with answering any questions the admission committee or the recruiting team may have about the applicant.
What Not to Do in a Letter of Recommendation:
i. Don’t Exaggerate
Never exaggerate the accomplishments and abilities of the applicant in the recommendation letter. Even if the hiring team does not find out the truth at the time of hiring, the applicant may face some challenging situations later in the job, and could come back to reflect badly on both you and the applicant.
ii. Don’t Use Overly Emotional Language
If you are too emotionally invested in the applicant’s career progression, it may reflect in your recommendation letter for him/her. Always make a conscious effort to maintain professional language while describing the accomplishments and abilities of the applicant. The recipient does not need to know details beyond work-related matters.
iii. Don’t Add Irrelevant Information
The person in charge of shortlisting potential employees does not have a lot of time to spare. So, when you write a recommendation letter for him/her to read, you need to make it concise without missing any crucial information. Leave out any irrelevant information in the letter.
iv. Don’t Write Anything Negative
While recommending a person for a program or job, you need to avoid mentioning anything negative or critical about the applicant. Doing that defeats the whole purpose of writing a recommendation letter. However, in rare cases, you may add a critical comment about the applicant to make his/her case more believable.
v. Don’t Write a Generic Letter
When you write a letter of recommendation for an applicant, you need to write it in a way that makes the applicant stand out in the competition. Writing a generic letter of recommendation that can be applied to any other candidate will not be of any use to the applicant.
vi. Don’t Omit Specific Letter Guideliness
You cannot neglect any guidelines specified by the recipient while writing a recommendation letter. Go through the criteria as well as the other relevant information, such as the deadline for submitting the letter or the length of the letter, before you start writing the letter. If you miss the deadline or neglect any guidelines, your letter may get rejected right away.
You should now be well equipped to tackle any recommendation letter requests that come your way. If you are using templates, do go through it more than once to make sure that there are no wrong names or blanks on the letter. Having those would do more harm than good for the applicant!