A letter of recommendation is a formal document designed to validate one’s work, skills, or academic performance upon his/her application for a job, internship, volunteer opportunity, etc. To get a recommendation letter, you can reach out to a former supervisor, professor, or school counselor. 

Despite the reference section listed on a resume can suffice as a recommendation, the employer may still require a stronger statement to support the candidate’s qualifications. This is the purpose of a recommendation letter - to reinforce what's written in the application documents, like CV, resume or cover letter.

Importance of a recommendation letter also lies in corroborating what the candidate claims. From the reference/referee’s observations and knowledge of the applicant, he/she will provide additional positive details about the candidate’s performance or competencies. 

Thus, the potential employer or education program can get a chance to understand the applicant's qualifications on a more personal level.

How to distinguish different types of letters

There are some terms that people often use interchangeably, such as: 

However, they are all different in both content and purpose.

First, let's go over the definition and purpose of each type of “letter”.

Recommendation Letter

A letter of recommendation is written by a previous teacher or supervisor, to provide insight into the applicant’s skills and qualifications to a prospective program or employer.

In most cases, someone is asked to submit a recommendation letter when applying for a job, scholarship or college/university admission.

Reference Letter

A letter of reference refers to a document that endorses an individual's capabilities, personal traits, work performance, written by someone who worked closely with the candidate.

Reference letters are most commonly used in the hiring process as part of the employment verification step. Along with a resume and cover letter, hiring managers can review a reference letter to determine if the candidate is qualified.  

💡 Reference letters are also used for immigration purposes.

Endorsement Letter

An endorsement letter is written to give consent, authorization, or approval of something/someone (an individual, organization, idea, product, or business).

It provides a more comprehensive overview of the candidate to the committee.

A letter of endorsement can be used in various contexts, such as academic programs, business, and politics, etc.

Some of the scenarios requiring an endorsement letter are:

  • Endorsing a student for an award
  • Introducing and supporting a politician
  • Endorsing a bid

Testimonial Letter

A testimonial letter, written in the form of a personal recommendation, is a document of recorded statements that assesses someone's performance, level of expertise, and credibility. The person who writes a testimonial letter can be a teacher/professor, previous employer, or client. 

The request for a testimonial letter is commonly by those who are applying for a new job -  testifying to the fact that they've handled the work properly. It doesn’t have to be full of praise and approval; just providing a true, accurate, and fair reflection of that individual. 

Letter of Support

A support letter is a formal document used to reinforce the credibility of a person or an organization who requests it. 

These external testimonials demonstrate that those individuals are believed to successfully accomplish the project. It's written by the third party, for example: a co-investigator, key stakeholder, or partner of a company.

A letter of support is essential to students, businesses, government, etc. In most cases, letters of support accompany a proposal or application for grant funds.

Formal letters are an important way of communication in professional settings. Hence, it's critical to tell the differences among them so they can be used effectively and properly. 

Let’s wrap it up for this part! 

“recommendation letter” vs “reference letter” vs “endorsement letter” vs “ testimonial letter” vs “letter of support”

  • A letter of recommendation is most widely used for academic purposes like school admission, scholarship, fellowship, etc. It’s also common for a job application. 
  • A reference letter is a general endorsement of the individual's character traits, skills, qualifications, and previous performance. For a job application, the hiring manager would like to review a reference letter along with the candidate's resume and cover letter. 
  • Besides individual purposes, an endorsement letter is also written to give support or public approval to something, like a political campaign, social movement, program, etc. 
  • A testimonial letter is a formal statement testifying an individual's qualifications and competencies based on his/her former performance. Testimonials are more favored in business settings where clients describe how a product or service met their expectations.
  • In most cases, letters of support serve the purpose of scholarship applications for students; or funding verifications for organizations. Writers should be the third party, demonstrating a strong belief in positive results.


What is a letter of recommendation?

  1. Academic recommendation letter (for school admission & scholarship)
    • Work recommendation letter (for job, internship, promotion)
      • Letter of recommendation for residency
      • Immigration letter of recommendation
      • Volunteer recommendation letter
      • Adoption recommendation letter
      • Fellowship recommendation letter

      There are various types of recommendation letters, serving different purposes and contexts. 

      You probably feel daunting now… 

      No worries, no matter you’re the one asking for it, or the one being asked for, here is an overview of each type of recommendation letter - what, why, and when to use. 

      Academic Recommendation Letter

      An academic recommendation letter is a specific type of a recommendation letter for students, summarizing their academic achievements, character, and goals. As a student, you can ask for a recommendation letter from a teacher, professor, guidance counselor, or club organizer as they have ample evidence of your capabilities.

      An academic recommendation letter serves various purposes. We’ll introduce college recommendation letters and recommendation letters for scholarships.

      • Letter of recommendation for college/university admission

      A college recommendation letter is an endorsement of a college applicant to bolster one’s chances of admission to a school. Letters of recommendation for college admission are brief and contain formal statements that highlight the student's impressive academic and personal strengths. 

      That's why recommendation letters for university, graduate school, or Ph.D admission can carry a great deal of weight in applications and have a powerful effect on the applicants’ chances of admission. 

      • Recommendation letter for scholarship

      There are numerous kinds of scholarships out there for students entering colleges, and a recommendation letter for scholarship is always one of the required documents. A strong recommendation letter can help the candidate stand out from the crowd and win the scholarship.

      Recommendation Letter for Employment 

      • Recommendation letter for job

      Top-level roles and key personnel in a company, such as managers, might often receive requests from employees for letters of recommendation.

      A good reference letter from employer should include three main points: 

      1. Relationship between the employee and the recommender
      2. Observations and evaluations of the employee’s work
      3. Reasons why the employee might be qualified for the new role.

      With that being said, a recommendation letter from a former manager can help you land the job. Beyond the interview and resume, many hiring managers request a letter of recommendation to evaluate the candidates further based on the insight from an outside party.

      • Recommendation letter for an internship

      A recommendation letter for internship is usually written by a teacher, is submitted to a company or organization who are seeking a contract – like tenders or public procurement. Internship recommendation letters can help the applicant get the internship opportunity and gain better employment opportunities in the future.

      • Recommendation letter for promotion

      Recommendation letter for promotion plays an important part in the evaluation and promotion process. Typically, a supervisor or manager will write a recommendation letter for promotion or recommendation letter for salary increase to state their point within the company. In the letter, they need to explain why the employee has the professional and personal skills to succeed in the new position.

      Learn how to ask for a letter of recommendation for job successfully!

      Letter of Recommendation for Residency

      Most residency programs request Letters of Recommendation for Residency (LoRS). This can reflect the applicant's academic performance and personal qualities. 

      While CVs and personal statements have many similarities among most candidates, a letter of recommendation for residency is an opportunity to qualify the factors and make that individual stand out. 

      Immigration Letter of Recommendation 

      A letter of recommendation for immigration is written on behalf of someone to support their immigration application. It is crucial to tilt the balance in the immigrant’s favor as it highlights positive personal characteristics, such as morality, trustworthiness, and work ethic. 

      Recommendation Letter for Volunteers

      If you are in a leadership role in a charitable organization, you may sometimes be asked to write a volunteer recommendation letter on someone's behalf. 

      Recommendation letters for volunteers are attached to the resumes to shed more light on a candidate's qualities and personal character. The main purpose is to prove that their goals and perspective are aligned with the mission of the organization or institution they are applying to. 

      Adoption Recommendation Letter

      When a family is planning for adoption, the first step is a home study, which includes submitting a  recommendation letter for adoption. 

      The letter can’t be from a family member. To get an adoption recommendation letter, you’ll need to reach out to friends, colleagues, or  neighbors - anyone who knows you well and be able to vouch for your prospective parents’ characters.

      Fellowship Recommendation Letter 

      A recommendation letter for fellowship is required when a student has completed a certain level of education or training, and now wishes to attend additional programs in a particular specialty.

      A fellowship recommendation letter should demonstrate the student's suitability for a particular fellowship and emphasize the referee's involvement with and knowledge of a student.



      How to get a letter of recommendation

      When requesting a letter of recommendation, there are three key steps you should follow to make the process efficient and professional. 

      Step 1:
      Make a list of people whom you can ask for a recommendation letter.

      Who to ask for a letter of recommendation depends on the application purpose. Getting a generic reference letter could ultimately hurt your opportunity. Hence, it's very important to consider who can write a letter of recommendation for you. 

      For example, if you need an academic recommendation letter, you should reach out to your teacher, professor, or school counselor who can prove your academic abilities. 

      How about a recommendation letter for employment? A former manager or supervisor is well-suited for providing the most accurate insights about you. 

      🚫 Avoid asking friends or family for this task as these recommendations seem biased and unprofessional.

      → Learn more about whom to ask for a letter of recommendation.

      Step 2:
      Prepare necessary information before asking.

      Next, you need to provide all the necessary details to make sure the reference understands your purpose and context clearly. 

      Below is the list of what to include when asking for a letter of recommendation:

      • An up-to-date resume/CV and/or cover letter 
      • What you’re currently doing (work, study, etc.)
      • What the recommendation letter is for 
      • Why you're qualified for the new role 
      • When you need the recommendation letter 

      Step 3:
      Make an official request face-to-face or over email.

      The last step is how to request a letter of recommendation.

      💡 Simply remember these three words: be polite, professional, and straightforward!

      Also, try to meet in person for the request, but if not possible, you can send an email instead. 

      Note the following things when you ask for a letter of recommendation by email:

      • A professional email subject 
      • Explain why you are asking this individual to write you a recommendation letter
      • Reiterate when you need the letter returned, and how to receive it 
      • Keep it short and thank them sincerely 

      When thinking about how to ask a professor or an employer for a letter of recommendation, keep in mind to send your request at least 2 weeks before the submission deadline. This way, they can have enough time to write the letter of recommendation properly.


      In general, a letter of recommendation serves as a great booster when you, as a candidate, need a “pick-me-up". An impressive resume, a sincere cover letter, and a convincing recommendation letter - all can set you apart from others and win the competition. 

      While requesting this document, bear in mind to identify the objective, know who to ask, what to provide, you’ll be on your way to receiving a great recommendation letter.


      May Luong
      contributor

      May Luong

      “Every experience of my life, every voice of my soul, and every quality of my mind is written largely in my works.”
      Since May was young, she has been fueled by a deep, enduring fascination with words. Her thoughts have always soared with the tales surrounding her life. That has guided her this far to become a storyteller and a content writer.

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