What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 23, 2021 | Published January 26, 2020

Updated February 23, 2021

Published January 26, 2020

Having someone who can vouch for your qualifications and personal character can make potential employers more likely to consider you for a role. Most job applications allow the opportunity to list references, or, the names of former co-workers or supervisors who can attest to your capabilities as an employee. A letter of recommendation, however, is typically more formal and provides more detail than a typical reference.

Recommendation Letter Format

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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

In this article, we will explain what a letter of recommendation is, why you might need one and what it contains.

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a formal document that addresses your suitability for a particular position. Letters of recommendation differ from standard references in that references are often a casual conversation and can be conducted through email or over the phone. Former managers, supervisors or mentors are typically the most appropriate people to ask for a letter of recommendation, since they have established working relationships with you and can attest to your strengths as an employee.

Why would you need a letter of recommendation?

Although a reference list on an application will often suffice as a recommendation, there may be times when a potential employer requires a stronger statement of support. Jobs that entail a high level of trust or skill or are very competitive will often require a letter of recommendation. For example, if you apply to work in the financial or medical fields, be prepared to supply a letter along with your resume and cover letter. 

Related: Letter of Recommendation for a Teacher

Who should write letters of recommendation?

When selecting your letter of recommendation writers, you should consider… 

  • People who know you professionally and can vouch for your work and character

  • People you have worked with relatively recently and will remember you

  • People you know will speak positively about you

Asking a former supervisor or company owner for a letter of recommendation is likely to have a stronger impact than a letter from a coworker, since a former superior can address your ability to function as part of a team and to accept instruction. Whoever writes your letter should also include people you know will take the time to write a strong, thorough recommendation.

If in doubt, contact the people on your list to make sure they are willing and available to write a letter of recommendation.

Related: Asking for a Letter of Recommendation

What is required in a letter of recommendation?

Although a letter writer who can express their thoughts freely will often write a more personal and detailed recommendation, most letters should address these elements:

  • Your relationship: The first paragraph should tell how the writer knows you and for how long. The letter should clearly demonstrate that you have a working history with your the person recommending you and that they are qualified to speak about you as an applicant. 

  • Your skills: The writer should talk about your skills and achievements, providing relevant examples if possible. For instance, if you’re applying to be a paralegal, your recommendation writer could address your attention to detail and client relation skills.

  • Your character: The person recommending you should know you well enough to assess your character. A comprehensive letter could discuss your trustworthiness and kindness toward coworkers. 

While you should encourage the person writing your letter to write freely, you can also suggest ways to create the most beneficial letter for the job you’re applying for. Some useful ways to influence the content of your recommendation letter include:

  • Send the job posting. When your letter writer knows the exact requirements of your desired job, they will likely write a more focused and impactful letter. For example, if the job requires someone who pays attention to detail, the letter of recommendation can speak of your conscientiousness.

  • Include your resume. If the person has not worked with you for a few years, your resume can serve as a memory prompt. Doing so can also give them a more comprehensive view of your employment history, which could also provide material for your recommendation letter. 

  • Remind them of your skills and achievements. If it has been a long time since you worked with your recommendation writer, a reminder of your key accomplishments can help them write a more effective letter. For example, if your previous organization awarded you "Employee of the Year" or you helped raise sales by 15%, ask your recommender to mention that in their letter. 

It is important to remember that you are asking someone to write a letter of recommendation as a favor to you. Be sure to give them plenty of time to write the letter, and offer as much assistance as you can.

Make sure to proofread your letter to ensure that it meets professional standards for spelling and grammar. You could also ask a friend or colleague to review it and provide notes. Consider making a list of any necessary edits, and after thanking your letter writer for their time and generosity, politely request they make the changes.

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