15 Tips for Writing a Great Letter of Recommendation

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 11, 2021

Published January 3, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Writing a letter of recommendation is a chance to show your appreciation for the hard work of a former employee or student. It’s also an opportunity to let the candidate know that you recognized their effort and abilities. Because a great letter of recommendation can have a powerful impact on a candidate’s ability to successfully obtain a job or enter into a college program, it’s important to take the time and effort to write one that will be effective. In this article, we explore what a letter of recommendation is and share 15 tips to help you write a great one.

Recommendation Letter Format
Image description

Recommendation Letter Format

  1. Introduction and statement of recommendation

  2. List of specific reasons you are recommending them to the position

  3. Personal story with evidence of their qualities (soft and hard skills)

  4. Closing statement with contact information

  5. Signature

Related: Letter of Recommendation for College Students

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a letter written by a former employer, client, colleague or teacher who can recommend a person’s work or academic performance. The goal is to have someone vouch for the person’s achievements, skills and aptitude to emphasize how they would be a great fit for a position or college program.

Recommendation letters are usually requested by a student or potential employee and then written directly to the hiring manager or admissions department, depending on the purpose behind the letter.

Related: How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (With Examples)

15 tips for writing a letter of recommendation

Here are some tips you can use to help guide you through the process of writing a letter of recommendation.

Related: How to Write a Recommendation Letter for a Friend

1. Create a new letter for each recommendation

While it can be helpful to have a basic template, make sure you customize each letter with specific details that highlight the candidate’s qualifications. Try to sketch a general outline before you begin to ensure you don’t miss any of the key points you want to include regarding the candidate’s qualifications.

2. Review the resume 

Before you begin writing, review the candidate’s or student’s resume to get a complete overview of the types of experiences they have had in other jobs. Having a full understanding of their background can help you write a more thorough letter that addresses their strengths and specific goals they’re working toward. You could also look for any areas that may need improvement on and suggest edits to the candidate or student. 

3. Request some bullet points

To save yourself time and ensure you touch on the points that the candidate feels are most important for the position, suggest that they provide you with a list of bullet points or a few paragraphs that you can refer to. They might provide you a draft of the letter that you revise in your own words.   

4. Prepare a list of qualities

As you review the resume and job description, compile a list of qualities and accomplishments you believe highlight the candidate’s qualifications. You could also ask the candidate to share their most marketable assets for the type of work they want to do, especially ones that you may have observed in the position they had while working with you.

5. Introduce yourself

It’s typically a good idea to introduce yourself in the first few lines in the letter. Give a brief sentence or two explaining your position and your relationship to the candidate. While it’s not necessary to go into depth with your history, this will help give the letter context and explain why you are in a good position to recommend this person.

 6. Include language from the job description

Ask for a copy of the job description so you can review what the employer is looking for. Review the job description closely so you can address the specific requirements for the position. In the event that you’re writing a general recommendation, you can ask them for an example of two jobs for which they are applying so that you can write a more general recommendation that could apply to either. 

7. Focus on one or two qualities

Pick one or two qualities that you feel make the candidate a good fit for the position. Support those statements with specific instances in which the candidate demonstrated those qualities. For example, talk about obstacles they overcame or challenges they tackled to reach their goals. You may want to include two paragraphs for the main body of the letter and focus on one achievement and the other on the person’s character with things like fortitude, integrity, work ethic or standards to which they hold themselves. 

8. Quantify the strengths

If possible, try to quantify the candidate’s strengths or rank them with other applicants or colleagues. For example, “She has the best analytical skills of any person I’ve worked with during my ten years at the company” or “He was one of the most astute students in my classes since I began teaching 17 years ago.” If you can, include quantifiable results that the candidate achieved while working with you. For example, “He was integral in our ability to grow our website traffic 25% over the course of six months, which resulted in a 10% increase in sales.”

9. Discuss their potential

Include in the letter why you believe the candidate would excel in the role given the opportunity. Some things you may want to include are their:

  • Ability to work as part of a team

  • Ability to work independently

  • Strengths, skills and talents you believe will position them for future success

10. Be enthusiastic

Your goal is to help the candidate stand out from the other applicants for the job or college program they are applying for. Express your enthusiasm for how ideal you believe they would be for the role. One easy way to do this is to tell the recipient of the letter that you would gladly re-employ them again within your own department.

11. Use active voice

Write using active voice instead of passive voice for a more powerful letter of recommendation. Active voice makes your meaning more clear for the person reading your letter and keeps your sentences more concise because fewer words are required to express action in active voice. To change passive sentences to active ones, put the subject first in the sentence so it’s clear who’s performing the action. For example, “The car was hit by the truck” is in passive voice. “The truck hit the car,” is in active voice because it shows first who’s doing the action.

12. Include your contact information

Provide a way for the potential employer or admissions office to contact you for further information or with any questions they may have about the candidate. Mention an eagerness to share additional insight into the candidate’s qualifications. You can include your email address or phone number in the conclusion of the letter or place it after the signature.

13. Proofread

It’s important to take the time to proofread the letter thoroughly to avoid typos and grammatical errors. You may even want to read the letter aloud so your eyes don’t skim over words and overlook possible errors.

14. Use the right format and length

Write your letter using standard font and print size, usually Times New Roman 12-point for printed letters or Arial 11-point font for electronically submitted letters. If you are printing, check to make sure the margin is approximately one-inch wide. The length should be between two-thirds and one full-single spaced page. 

15. Follow the submission guidelines

Ask the candidate how they want the letter submitted. Be sure to follow any specific requirements, such as the requested format and where the letter should be sent. Make sure you are aware of the upcoming deadline.

Use a simple structure

Use this simple structure to format your letter:

  • Salutation: If you are writing to someone specific, include a salutation that says “Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. [name]:” If you are writing a general letter, don’t include a salutation or simply say, “To Whom it May Concern:”

  • Introduction: Use the first paragraph to explain the purpose of the letter and how you know the person that you’re recommending. You may also want to include the length of time in which you have known them.

  • Details: The second paragraph should detail why you believe the person you’re recommending is qualified for the job or program. Include specific examples that demonstrate their abilities and qualifications. You can use more than one paragraph to detail their qualifications, if necessary.

  • Summary: In this section, summarize why you are recommending this person. A phrase you could include is, that you “highly recommend” or “recommend [name] without reservation for [program/role].” 

  • Conclusion: In the final paragraph, you should offer to speak with them further to offer more information about the candidate’s qualifications and abilities. End the letter with “Yours sincerely” when you are writing to someone named on the letter or, if you don’t know who the letter is going to, “Yours faithfully.”

  • Sign the letter: Close the letter with your name and title. If you are printing the letter and mailing it, include your signature under the typed name.

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