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How to Write an Awesome Letter of Recommendation (with Examples)

And what to say when you can't say anything good

Woman writing a letter of recommendation

A good letter of recommendation can serve as evidence of a job applicant’s experience and skills. A poor letter of recommendation can put a screeching halt to their career. 

If you’ve been asked by a former coworker or colleague to write a letter of recommendation, learn how to make the most of every word with our guide.

1. Discuss and gather

Once you accept the task of constructing a letter of recommendation, don’t dive into writing just yet. You’ll need to conduct some research. Schedule a quick conversation with the requestor to learn more about:

  • The job they’re applying for

  • What skills the position requires

  • Why they’re interested in the position

The answers to these questions will help you learn more about the job itself and why the requestor believes they’re qualified. Also, knowing whether they’re passionate about the opportunity will help you craft a letter that shows equal enthusiasm. 

Make sure you also get some basic information, like who the letter should be addressed to and their email address, or how you’re expected to submit the letter. 

Read more: How to Ask Someone How Much Money They Make

2. Write and walk

There’s no one-size-fits-all template for a letter of recommendation. But there are a few key sections yours should include. Below we break down the most important sections to focus on, along with a couple brief examples.

Introduce the candidate

Start your letter with enthusiasm and praise as you introduce the requestor.

I’m honored to recommend Lindsay for the position of Marketing Director at 123 Marketing Services. 

-----

Gina is committed to any challenge put in front of her. Any company would be lucky to add her to their team.

Explain your relationship

Establish your relationship with the candidate, both past and present if necessary.

I was Amanda’s supervisor at ABC Company for six years. Even though I left two years ago, we’ve kept in touch.

-----

As head of the marketing department, I’ve worked with dozens of content developers. However, I’ve never forgotten Mary and her unique talents.

Showcase their qualifications

Use specific examples to show you have experience with the candidate.

Diane’s grasp of digital marketing is like no one else I’ve ever worked with. She doubled followers to our business Facebook page in only a month.

-----

I watched Rebecca thrive in our accounting department. She always knew how to handle difficult situations and took every opportunity to teach those around her.

Close with intent

Summarize your main points and finish on a strong note.

For all these reasons, I believe Sarah would make an excellent addition to your team. Please reach out if you have any questions.

-----

I am confident that Lucy would prove to be a positive addition to your company. If you need any other details regarding my confident recommendation, feel free to contact me.

A few notes on writing a great recommendation letter

The average job opening attracts 250 resumes. Be professional when writing a letter of recommendation, but don’t be afraid to inject a little personality into your letter. Your letter should be true and authentic, but also memorable.

Once your rough draft is complete, put some space between you and the document. While a letter of recommendation often has a pressing deadline, walking away for even a couple hours will make it easier to proofread and finalize your draft.

Read more: How to Format Your Professional Letter Like, Well...a Professional

3. Finalize and present

Once you’ve taken a final look for clarity and grammar, send your letter. While letters of recommendation should be formatted like a traditional mailed document, many recruiters accept digital formats.  

If you want to send a copy to the requestor, that’s fine. But keep in mind that they shouldn’t have a say in the content of the letter. In most situations, it’s best to keep the content of the letter between you and the recruiter. 

Read more: How Participative Management Can Make a Difference in Your Business

What to do if you can’t write a positive letter of recommendation

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel right to write a letter of recommendation for someone. Whether you just don’t know them well enough or you don’t feel right recommending them for a certain job, you have the right to decline a request. After all, your reputation is on the line with any signed document.

How to politely decline

When declining a request, take the sandwich approach. Start and finish with a positive sentence, sandwiching your refusal in between.

Wow, that sounds like a great position you’re going up for! Unfortunately, I don’t think our short time working together gives me enough input to write a letter. But I’m available to help in other ways. Do you want to practice interview questions instead?

Or, you might say:

That sounds like a great job opportunity. I am not accepting any more recommendation letter requests at the moment. I wish you the best of luck in your job search, and I hope you're doing well.

Become a letter of recommendation queen

Writing a letter of recommendation can be a rewarding experience. Break down the letter into smaller and approachable sections, infuse it with a bit of personality, and you’ll be doing your part to positively influence the career of someone important in your life.

Read more: 3 Practical Ways to Relieve Stress

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By Rochel Maday

Contributor

Rochel Maday is a content creator and strategist. She works one-on-one with business owners to find content marketing strategies that work for their unique industry and audience. When not hammering away at her laptop, she enjoys watching documentaries and attending tea parties hosted by her three young daughters.

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