How To Write a Recommendation Letter: Letters of Recommendation

Get Tips for Writing a Letter of Recommendation for Jobs, Colleges and More

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There are many reasons why you may be asked to write a recommendation letter. Perhaps a former employee needs a reference in her new line of work, your housekeeper wants to take on new clients, your favorite babysitter is seeking her first "real" job, or your longtime intern is applying to college. Although a college recommendation letter may vary slightly from letters of recommendation for jobs, you can still use the same basic format.

No matter what the circumstances, there are some guidelines you can follow when writing.  

  1. If you honestly cannot recommend the person for the job, don't agree to write a letter. It's difficult enough to accurately describe and promote a person's positive characteristics. It's twice as hard to spin someone's negative traits into something that resembles a compliment. So don't even try.

    Instead, you can tell the person, "I'm sorry, but I really don't think I'm the best person to write your recommendation." If he or she pushes for an explanation, you might tell them you didn't work closely enough with them to fully get to know their work style or ethic. Or be brutally honest, "I don't think you're a good fit for that company. Their sales team relies a lot on teamwork, and you've always seemed to work better independently here." Or, "While I can appreciate how you often look at the big picture, I know Mary needs someone who is very detail-oriented."

  2. Once you've agreed to write the letter of recommendation, find out if there's a deadline and get the recipient's correct name and address. The person asking you for the letter might give you an addressed stamped envelope, which makes your job easier. If it's a generic letter that the job seeker may use in different circumstances for years to come, you can use "To Whom It May Concern" or simply start your letter without a salutation.
  3. Ask the job seeker if there's anything in particular he or she wants the recipient to know. This will help you home in on points that will help him or her get the job. Writing a letter of recommendation can be difficult if you aren't aware of what skills the recipient needs highlighted.
  4. Begin the letter by introducing yourself and explaining your relationship to the job seeker: "As the Vice President of Marketing at XYZ Company, I have employed Jennifer Jones as my executive assistant for the past three years."
  5. Then detail what the job seeker has done in her current position. Note how tasks she's done in her current job could relate to the position she is applying for, and explain how she has stood out in your employ: "As my assistant, Jennifer has scheduled all of my meetings, answered my phone, opened my mail, filed paperwork and arranged my business travel. While she has always been a fabulous administrative assistant, she's really shown her true talents in marketing since she began attending our weekly brainstorming meetings this year. The company's executive managers have appreciated her insightful comments, and they have used many of her suggestions in our new branding campaign."
  6. Offer some specifics to help illustrate why you would recommend this person for the job. Don't forget to mention not only the job seeker's work ethic, but also her personable traits as well. There are some characteristics, such as being a "team player," a "hard worker," a "friendly colleague," or an "optimistic person," that are attractive to any employer: "She recently took on the huge (and thankless) task of preparing a multimedia presentation for our foreign branches, all while continuing to do her regular administrative work. Jennifer finished this important project on time with a smile on her face--even though I know she worked many late nights to complete it. This is just one example of how Jennifer has continually gone above and beyond for us here at XYZ."
  7. Use at least three adjectives to describe the job seeker and sign off: "If I had to describe Jennifer Jones in a handful of words, I'd say she's hard-working, detail-oriented, smart and a team player--exactly the type of person you'd want at your company. In fact, I wish we had a place for Jennifer here at XYZ, but at this time, our entry-level marketing positions are filled. She'd be a perfect fit as a marketing associate at ABC. I suggest you snatch her up before someone else does. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me."
  8. Don't forget to spell check your work. You may want to have a friend or colleague read over your letter before you mail it. It's always good to have a second set of eyes review anything you've written--especially something as important as a letter of recommendation.

 

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