If you've never written a letter of recommendation before, the process can seem a bit intimidating. Fortunately, all letters of recommendation involve common elements that you can master easily. To write a letter of recommendation, you'll need to construct a formal letter full of honest praise, information about the individual's qualifications, and details about your relationship to that person. You'll also need to make sure you target the recommendation to the exact purpose for which it's intended. This process is the same regardless of whether you're writing for a job, an academic acceptance, or something else entirely.
PART 1. Writing The Letter
Use standard formal letter writing conventions to begin. A letter of recommendation is like any other professional communication, and follows the same general rules and guidelines.
Place your address on the top right, followed by the date—spelled out.
Below that, on the left, place the recipient's name (if known) and address.
Open the letter with a formal business greeting. Ex:
Dear Ms. Smith,
Dear Sir or Madam, (if you don't know the recipient's name)
Open with a short, but enthusiastic, bit of praise. Let the company know right off the bat that you believe in this person. You don't have to be over the top or insincere, but a positive note to start will make a big difference.
"It makes me extremely happy to recommend Michael for the position of Director of Development at XYX Corporation."
"Any company should count themselves lucky to have an employee as bright, friendly, and dedicated as Gina."
"No matter what she does, Helena Bonham does it well.
Describe how you know the person. Give some context for your recommendation. Let the reader know how you met them, how you worked together, and your basic qualifications.
"As VP of Application Development, I was Michael's direct supervisor from 2009 through 2012. We worked closely together on several key projects, and I got to know him very well during this time.
"I was both Gina's adviser and teacher throughout her time at Hamilton College. I watched her shine both in the classroom and in office hours, and had the joy of watching her meet and then exceed expectations with her thesis."
"As the Dean of Students, I deal with many young people throughout the day. However, I was lucky to spend several hours a week with Ms. Bonham in her role as Committee President. In my 32 years as Dean, I have rarely been so impressed."
Be specific about the candidate's qualifications and successes. Describe what the person has done using specific instances and examples, rather than generalities. Whenever possible, give evidence or stories to back yourself up.
"Michael's sophisticated grasp of database architecture, combined with an innate feel for UX design and a warm, personal approach to his in-company client base dramatically improved the productivity of our company's merchandising, creative, and editorial departments. His approach to managing application support, maintenance, and training was highly professional and greatly respected, both by end users and by the executive team."
"Gina was always inquisitive but never pushy. Despite being able to answer almost any question, Gina would rather sit back and help others find the answer for themselves. Countless students, who I thought were doomed to struggle, happily told me how tutoring sessions with Gina helped them turn the corner. And I had many conversations, both as her professor and a peer, that I will remember happily for years."
"When Ms. Bonham hears the word "no," you can almost see the gears start to turn. She is mover and a shaker -- interfacing with students, faculty, staff, and even outside agencies to find solutions to any problem."
Make comparisons to illustrate their success. To put the candidate's accomplishments into perspective, include comparisons so that the recipient will have some basis to understand why you are recommending this person.
"Michael's output of completed projects has exceeded the combined results of all other development efforts I've witnessed during my 8 years at UVW Company."
"The best students are ones that genuinely love to learn. A student that pushes themselves ever day to learn more and be better, and enjoys every minute. Gina is that kind of student.
"I can say with confidence that my job working with the Student Committee was never easier, nor more enjoyable, than when I got to work with Ms. Bonham."
Don't exaggerate -- show where and how they can improve. Don't put the candidate on a pedestal. Not only does it not look plausible, it will also set expectations for them that will be next to impossible to meet. If they have an Achille's heel, don't exaggerate it, but don't hide it, either.
"Despite coming in as a novice, Michael has worked hard to improve his documentation and commenting of scripts and processes, making it easier for those filling his shoes in the future to work effectively."
"Gina is always on the move -- tutoring, taking classes, joining clubs, etc. -- and though her schedule is perhaps too tightly packed, she somehow manages it all with a smile on her face."
"Of course, Ms. Bonham's determination and drive occasionally led to butting heads and conflicting opinions. However, though she is never one to shy away from conflict, Ms. Bonham passion was never mean-spririted or rude."
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Keep your writing action-oriented. Begin each paragraph with a punchy, active affirmation of the candidate's qualities or character. Strong verbs are your friend.
Don't say "Over the course of the last couple years, I have been pleased to watch the ongoing development of Michael's talents." Say instead, "Michael's skills have grown rapidly in the last couple years."
"Gina exhibits the drive and dedication of the best students. Her writing is clear and concise, a rarity among many young people but effortless for her."
"Ms. Bonham fights for what she believes is right, even if it doesn't mesh with her own preferences. This clear-eyed and selfless attitude will catapult her far in life."
Close the letter affirmatively. Reiterate your recommendation of the candidate and, if appropriate, invite the recipient to contact you.
For example, say, "For all of these reasons, I think Michael will make a fine addition to your team. Should you have any questions, I invite you to contact me at the number or address, above."
"Gina is the kind of person I would love to hire to work for me, and I know she will be an incredible asset for you."
"I have no qualms about giving Ms. Bonham the highest recommendation for the position. If you have any questions, please contact me."
Use a business closing and sign your name. Above all, be professional. If the you're sending a physical letter, print it out and sign it by hand. Otherwise, just typing your name will do.
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