How to Write a Professional Letter of Recommendation in 2023

how-to-write-professional-letter-of-recommendation

At some point in your studying path and career, you've probably needed a recommendation letter, which may go by different names such as a letter of recommendation, recommendation letter, letter of reference, or job reference. Whatever the term may be, this formal document is commonly associated with employment and university applications.

A recommendation letter is typically written by a candidate’s past or present professional contact. A recommendation letter serves as a detailed endorsement that allows companies and schools to understand a candidate better from the perspective of someone who knows or knew them.

If you come across this article, it’s probably safe to assume you’ve been asked to write one. Whether it’s a recommendation letter for students or a recommendation letter for professionals, both types typically follow the same format as a regular letter. However, there is a slight difference between the type to use. 

In this article, we will share exactly what constitutes a recommendation letter, a letter sample, and how to write a professional one.

In this article, we will share exactly what constitutes a recommendation letter, a letter sample, and how to write a professional one.

What Is a Recommendation Letter?

Though you’ve likely come across it before, let’s look at its definition again: a recommendation letter is a formal document in which you vouch for someone’s character or work ethic. This is usually done by briefly recounting examples, such as past performances, where an individual has exhibited certain characteristics or skills that organizations and institutions would be interested in.

Recommendation letters are often requested by companies and schools to verify the accuracy of candidate applications, as they are typically written by past or present employers or professors.

There are many possible situations where the need for recommendation letters may arise, such as in applications for:

  • A new job.
  • An internship.
  • A new school, university, or program within higher education.
  • A scholarship.

In addition to the list above, recommendation letters are great for potential candidates to have at their disposal, particularly when wanting to strengthen their resumes. Whether it’s required for the job or not, a simple recommendation letter should always be in their arsenal.

Wait a second. Isn’t a recommendation letter just a referral or reference letter? Can you use them interchangeably? To put it bluntly - no. When a referral letter acts as just an endorsement of someone’s character, a recommendation letter provides specific examples that discuss the candidate’s skills and abilities.

Let’s check out some samples for more of an idea about what a recommendation letter looks like.

Recommendation Letter Samples

The two most common uses for recommendation letters are for new employment applications and university applications (including relevant internships, scholarships, and graduate school opportunities). This being the case, we’ve created two recommendation letter samples:

  • Recommendation letter for job applications
  • Recommendation letter for student

Recommendation letter for employee from manager

letter-of-recommendation-example-1

Recommendation letter for students

letter-of-recommendation-example-2

Components of a Recommendation Letter & How to Format Them

Let’s be real: writing a recommendation letter is much like writing a normal letter, except for the content. If you ignore that crucial caveat, a recommendation letter format is pretty much the same as your cover letter.

Let's have a look at the components of a recommendation letter:

Letterhead

Perhaps the main similarity of any formal letter you’ve ever written is the letterhead for letters of recommendation. Taking up the top left-hand corner of the document, the letterhead is made up of the:

  • Date
  • Recipient name
  • Recipient title or position
  • Recipient address
  • Greeting

When writing a greeting for a letter of recommendation, it’s advisable to steer clear of the classic and seriously overused opening address of ‘To whom it may concern.’ If the applicant doesn’t know who the recipient is, the greeting for a professional letter of recommendation should be: “Dear Head of Admissions for Swarthmore College” or “Dear Hiring Manager.”

You can check the samples above for some more letterhead examples.

Your introduction

The introduction is the first of three sections that are included in the recommendation letter. For this opening section, it is imperative to:

  • Express your sincerity in recommending the applicant.
  • Introduce the candidate and the position they’re applying for.
  • Introduce yourself: who you are, how you know the candidate and the length of your relationship.

All of the above is key to setting the context and relevance of the recommendation letter. This part should ideally fit within two or three sentences. An optional sentence to fit into the introduction would be to highlight key strengths that pertain to why you feel the candidate is special. 

Recommendation

Now it’s the main part of the recommendation letter, where you should strive to answer the question, ‘Why should the candidate get this role?’. No pressure.

To properly answer this question, it’s advisable for you to mention at least two specific skills and qualities, as well as two characteristics that you feel would enhance the candidate’s application. This may involve outlining the candidate’s academic or professional proficiencies as well as the personality traits that would suit their proposed role or position.

Examples

After writing about the recommendation section, it’s time to reinforce your points with some examples in your recommendation letter. Remember that for any claim of skill, characteristic, personality, quality, etc., you should always provide an example - a justification, if you will. 

Closing

The third section of any recommendation letter, also known as the conclusion or closing, is where you should offer some final thoughts about the candidate’s application, followed by reaffirming your support and briefly mentioning why the candidate is worthy of your recommendation. 

The closing part of a recommendation letter should also include your encouragement to accept the candidate and to contact you for further information should the need arise. 

The recommendation letter is then properly closed with a sign-off, usually with a ‘Best,’ ‘Best regards,’ or a ‘Sincerely.’

Your contact information

Don’t forget to add your contact information before signing off a recommendation letter. Though it’s not compulsory, offering your contact information is a great way to show sincerity. You can add two contact methods in case the recipient wishes to discuss further.

Recommendation letter contact information can be added in a paragraph all by itself, weaved into the closing, or placed below your signature.

Signature

Though some may consider this addition a little too fancy, providing your signature is actually expected in a professional letter of recommendation. The signature should go right after your closing sign-off, and above your full name, position, name of company/school, and any other contact information you might want to add.

Recommendation Letter Template

Now that we’ve seen two examples of recommendation letters, and have learned how to write a strong one, the next step is to craft your own. 

If this feels like a big step, go on and use our generic letter of recommendation template. Whether you’re writing a recommendation for a past employee or student, this recommendation template is sure to make the process easier.

Recommendation Letter Template

[Date: Month-Day-Year]

[Recipient name]

[Recipient title]

[company/university name]

[Company/university address]

Dear [Mr/Mrs/Ms.] [recipient name],

It is my pleasure to recommend [candidate name] for [role/position] at [name of organization/institution]

For the past [duration of relationship, I have had the honor of [working with/teaching] [candidate name] as their [your position] at [name of company/university]. Throughout our time together, [candidate name] has performed exceptionally well at [company/school] and I am fully confident that they will be an invaluable asset to your [company/school].

Among [candidate name]’s many [professional/academic] accomplishments, their [list at least one quality or skill] have contributed greatly to our [department/company/school]. When [mention a relevant situation that arose], they [mention how they helped resolve it and the impact that had - could be mentally as well as economically].

Outside of the [classroom/office], [candidate name]’s [characteristics that have impacted the company/school culture] have greatly benefited our department. Their [example of this characteristic and the impact it had].

Throughout their [degree/time with company], [candidate name] has been a pleasure to [teach/work with]. Their [state one skill, characteristic, or quality that relates to what you’ve already mentioned] have been an incredible addition to our [team/department/school], and I strongly recommend you to accept them for this [program/role].

Should you wish to discuss [candidate name]’s application further, feel free to contact me by phone [your phone number] or by email [your email].

Sincerely, 

[your signature]

[your name]

[your position]

[Company/university’s name]

How to Write a Professional Letter of Recommendation

Regardless of who your recommendation letter is for, let’s have a look at how to write a good letter of recommendation:

Understand the purpose of the recommendation letter.

Before even starting the process, you need to make sure you understand the purpose of the recommendation letter. Is it a work recommendation letter? Or perhaps a recommendation letter for a student applying for an internship or higher education? These are the sorts of things that will impact not only how you approach the recommendation letter, but also the tone and contents of the letter.

Different purposes will also call for different skills and qualities to be highlighted. If it’s a generic letter of recommendation for a candidate to have in their arsenal and not for any specific position or application, this will also change what you may want to mention and discuss.

In short, it is crucial that you understand the purpose of the recommendation letter before you start writing a recommendation. If you already know what it is, great. If not, ask for more specific requirements or instructions.

Ask for any specific requirements/instructions.

Writing a professional letter of recommendation for a former employee or student can be challenging, especially if you’re struggling to find adequate recommendations and examples to include. When the going is getting tough, it doesn't hurt to ask the candidate for more information, specifically what they might like you to mention.

Most of the time, a candidate will have chosen you as their reference for a reason and are likely to have an idea in mind of what you should mention in your recommendation letter. If it’s proving difficult to figure out what that idea might be, ask the candidate to provide you with:

  • Their resume
  • The job description or academic program
  • Additional information about any skills, achievements, or qualifications

With the above, you should be able to appropriately tailor the recommendation letter to their application. Just remember to avoid repeating anything unless it appears significantly important in creating the ideal applicant. 

Provide specific examples of your recommendation.

When writing a recommendation, you should aim to provide at least two specific examples that reflect the candidate’s qualities and can attest to positive characteristics. Remember to make these relevant to the job position or academic application. 

For an idea of how to weave in examples, why not take a look at the letter of recommendation examples for jobs and students further up this article?

Don’t be contradictory.

This may seem self-explanatory, but it’s good to remember that a professional letter of recommendation has a clear line throughout and doesn’t make contradictory statements. 

An easy way to ensure this is to avoid extending the truth. Lying in a recommendation letter, or for any part of an application, is frowned upon anyway and won’t bode well for you or the candidate in the long run.

Keep it simple & concise.

While the length of a recommendation letter isn’t really that important, the general consensus is that it shouldn’t exceed a one-sided page with a size 12 font. If you’re inching ever closer to two pages, that’s okay, just make sure that everything you’ve written is genuinely relevant to their application. If it’s not, cut it.

Don’t be afraid to decline a recommendation request.

It can be daunting to open your email and see “Request for a recommendation letter from professor” staring back at you, especially if it’s from a student you don’t feel you can provide sufficient commendations for, for whatever reason. If something similar happens to you, remember that there’s no harm in declining a recommendation request.

Recommendation letters work best when their writers can provide positive feedback on someone’s work. If you’re unsure whether you can actually do that, it’s probably best to decline.

Conclusion

Writing a recommendation letter can sometimes feel like both an honor and a burden, but with the right format - cue our letter of recommendation template - this process can feel like a breeze.

That said, in crafting a truly professional letter of recommendation, you’ll still have to adjust the tone for different purposes, as well as provide relevant examples for the recommended qualities and characteristics that link to those purposes - see our sample recommendation letter for employee, recommendation letter sample for job, and tips for a better idea on how to do this.

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--- Originally written by EVA O'MARA ---

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