Do you want to know how to increase the chance of getting a callback when you apply for a job?
Surprisingly, a study about the value of reference letters shows that submitting a reference letter to the application increases callback by 61%.
As a powerful tool for boosting a job application, a letter of recommendation is a type of reference letter that includes details about the candidate’s experiences and skills, which make them an outstanding candidate.
So, if your coworker asked you to write them a letter of recommendation, you have a chance to elevate their application drastically — which they will highly appreciate.
If you’re not sure how to write a professional recommendation letter in simple and quick steps, we’ll get you covered!
In this article, we’ll include:
- The essential elements of a professional recommendation letter,
- Critical steps for writing a formal letter of recommendation,
- Examples and a template that will save your time, and
- Additional tips for making a letter of recommendation more professional and effective.
So, let’s get started!
Table of Contents
As its name implies, a recommendation letter is a letter written by someone who recommends a person’s character, work, or academic performance.
Based on the distinct purposes, we can differentiate between the three types of recommendation letters:
- A character recommendation letter (a reference letter): A letter about the person’s character traits and abilities, written by someone who knows the person well.
- An academic recommendation letter: Typically used when people apply to school or college, or for an internship or scholarship, but could also be required in the hiring process for entry-level jobs. They are usually written by a school teacher or university professor.
- An employment (job) recommendation letter: A detailed letter that endorses the person’s professional abilities and experiences relevant to the certain position.
In this article, we discuss exclusively an employment letter of recommendation, highlighting the most important elements you need to include and the steps you should follow.
An employment letter of recommendation is a formal letter of a former or current business network of the applicant where they vouch for the candidate’s job qualifications based on their:
- Work experience,
- Skills and knowledge,
- Personal traits, and
- Work ethic.
A person who writes a recommendation letter is typically the applicant’s former employer or manager, but that could also be a coworker or client.
In the best-case scenario, this is someone more senior, because their words are more influential compared to those with less experience.
What’s more, hiring managers prefer employers’ or managers’ opinions over the words of candidates’ colleagues. This is because they can get more valuable insights from people who are in higher hierarchical positions, since they have a bigger picture of the person’s qualifications.
Therefore, thanks to letters of recommendation, hiring managers learn more about candidates from other people’s perspectives, so they can assess them more realistically.
While in some companies sending an employer recommendation letter is optional, others request it. Either way, submitting this attachment will certainly make the application stand out and get the candidate closer to their dream job.
Before we master how to write a job recommendation letter, it’s a good time to clarify how a reference and a recommendation letter differentiate from each other.
Even though in some people’s opinion the two are synonymous, there’s a distinction we should keep in mind.
A character reference letter is focused on the person’s general characteristics and abilities, so you can use it for multiple opportunities such as job applications or colleague internships.
On the other hand, an employment recommendation letter is written specifically for a certain job position ― so, it includes information about skills, experience, and knowledge relevant to the position.
For example, when applying for a sales assistant job, a great tool for boosting a job application is a recommendation letter that speaks about the person’s strong interpersonal skills, resilience, and excellent verbal communication.
However, writing about the person’s academic aspirations wouldn’t be much help, since it’s irrelevant to this position.
You’ve been asked to write a letter of recommendation for your coworker, but you’re not sure how to even start.
Even though writing a recommendation letter might seem tricky, it’s more than simple when you follow the essential steps.
Before we dive deeper into each of them, let’s look at the ideal format of a professional recommendation letter and the elements you need to include:
- Contact information,
- A formal greeting,
- A brief introduction,
- An overview of the applicant’s most relevant skills, experiences, and knowledge,
- Examples of attributes that you stated,
- An effective ending with a call to action, and
- Your signature.
Considering these elements, it’s critical to follow the steps to ensure you include all important information:
- List your contact information,
- Open with a greeting and a brief introduction,
- Outline what makes the candidate a perfect fit for the position,
- Include compelling examples, and
- At the end of the letter, summarize your recommendation and put the signature.
So, let’s dig deeper into each of these steps.
At the top of the letter, you need to list your contact information including:
- Your name,
- Your title,
- Your company name and address,
- Email address, and
- Phone number (optional).
Also, add the date and the recipient’s information in the following order:
- Their name,
- The title,
- The company name, and
- The company address (optional).
So, let’s take a look at the example of what it should look like:
1122 Main Street, Anytown, CA 992223
Begin your letter with a simple: “Dear Mr./Ms, [last name]”, or if you don’t know the recipient’s last name, you can just write “Dear hiring manager”.
After the salutation, you need to briefly state:
- The purpose of your letter,
- Who you are — your name and title, and
- Your business relationship with the recommendee.
The purpose of the introduction is to get the recipient familiar with your intention, so try to wrap the introduction in no more than 3 sentences, so the hiring manager can get to the body of the letter and the most relevant information as soon as possible.
Let’s look at the example:
“Dear Mr. Green,
I am writing to truly recommend Rebecca Carter for the position of talent acquisition specialist in Y company.
I am Julia Baker, a Head of Human Resources at X company. In my 7-year journey in human resources, my work has primarily been focused on talent acquisition and onboarding.
Rebecca has been a part of my team for 3 years, since she graduated with a master’s studies in Human Resources and completed a 3-month internship.”
So, it’s crystal clear who Rebecca and Julia are, and what the nature of their relationship is.
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
Did you know that some of the most common email greetings such as “To whom it may concern” and “Dear, Sir/Madam” are not the best choice to start your professional email?
To learn more about professional and unprofessional ways to begin your emails, make sure to read our blog post:
The next step is to explain why the candidate is a good fit for the job they’re applying for. So, in the body of the letter you need to provide the reasons why the applicant’s abilities and work experience align with the requirements of the job position.
Here’s what our contributors Ben Richardson, a Founder and Director of Acuity Training, has to say on this topic:
“Recommenders should focus on the position for which the applicant is applying and avoid going into too much detail about unrelated skills or experiences.”
Before you start writing the body of your recommendation letter, make a list of the candidate’s skills, knowledge, and personal traits relevant to the application.
In our example, they could be:
- Experience with full-circle recruitment,
- Analytical skills,
- Fast learning, etc.
Once you have a list, it’s much easier to compose effective sentences.
So let’s see what it can sound like:
“During her internship and employment in our company, Rebecca displayed great analytical skills and the ability to learn quickly. As a result, she needed less than a year to gain experience in full-cycle recruitment, using various interview techniques and evaluation methods”
After highlighting the attributes, you need to provide examples illustrating one of the candidate’s qualities.
You can briefly describe a memorable anecdote demonstrating their success or ability to solve certain issues.
Here’s an example of how you can do so when recommending a talent acquisition specialist:
“Moreover, last year, Rebecca managed to hire 22 people, which was the best achievement in our team of 11 talent acquisition specialists.”
At the end of the letter, it’s critical to summarize your recommendation in one or two sentences.
Most importantly, write that you’re open to further questions, which is an effective way to close the letter.
Let’s take a look at the example of a strong closing:
“Without a doubt, Rebecca has my highest recommendation, and I ensure she would be an excellent fit for your company.
If you have any questions or would like any additional information, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Head of Human Resources
💡 Pumble Pro Tip
If you’re wondering how to pick the right email ending, make sure to check our blog post:
Considering all important elements, we created a template you can use next time you are asked for a letter of recommendation. All you need to do is fill in the information required.
Dear Mr./Ms. [Last name]
It’s my great pleasure to recommend [recommendee’s name] for the position of [name of position] at [the company name].
My name is [your name], and I am [your position] at [the company’s name], where [recommendee] and I [have] worked together for [length of time].
As someone who is [quality 1] and [quality 2], [recommendee] has been a tremendous asset to the team. Beyond that, [he/she/they] displayed great [relevant skills and knowledge], which resulted in [recommendee’s contribution to the company or team].
One of [his/her/their] biggest achievements was [specific example].
Without a doubt, [recommendee] has my highest recommendation, and I assure you [he/she/they] would be an excellent fit for your company.
If you have any questions or would like any additional information, feel free to contact me at [email address].
[Your name and title]
So, let’s see examples of properly formatted employment recommendation letters.
1122 Main Street, Anytown, CA 992223
Dear Mr. Gordon,
It’s my great pleasure to recommend Oliver Davis for the position of a sales representative at ABC company.
My name is Jack Clark, and I am a sales leader at XY Software, where I’ve worked with Oliver for the last 3 years.
As an extroverted and highly organized person, Oliver has been a tremendous asset to the team. Beyond that, he displayed great communication and negotiation skills, as well as a sense of empathy, which led to building long-term relationships with customers.
One of his biggest achievements was last year when he managed to generate more than $20.000 in sales during the fourth quarter of the year.
Without a doubt, Oliver has my highest recommendation, and I assure you he would be an excellent fit for your company.
If you have any questions or would like any additional information, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1234 Main Street, Anytown, Ca 90000
Dear Ms. Brown,
It’s my great pleasure to recommend Emma Smith for the position of a content writer at ABC Software.
My name is Ana Anderson, and I am a content director at XY company. Emma has worked in my team as a content writer and editor for the last 2 years.
As someone who is detail-oriented with great time management skills, Emma has been a tremendous asset to my team.
Beyond that, she displayed great research skills and strong SEO knowledge, including understanding search intent and following on-site SEO rules. This resulted in her articles getting on the first Google SERP page for relevant keywords and high website traffic.
One of her biggest achievements was the article XYZ, which brought out the company 10.000 visits in just one month.
Without a doubt, Emma has my highest recommendation, and I assure you she would be an excellent fit for your company.
If you have any questions or would like any additional information, feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Aside from considering the ideal format of recommendation letters and following important steps, let’s see some of the tips for making your job recommendation letters more professional and effective.
Before you start writing the letter, make sure to collect the necessary information from the person you’re recommending.
It’s a good idea to take a look at the job posting, so you can ensure what the prospective employer is looking for. This will help you focus on relevant qualifications and experience, and skip irrelevant information.
Additionally, remember to review the candidate’s resume to get a complete picture of their overall experience and skills.
When writing recommendation letters, using the right format is almost equally as important as the content itself.
Therefore, follow these rules to ensure your letter is properly formatted:
- Select a font size between 10 and 12.
- Choose some of the most popular font styles such as Arial or Times New Roman.
- Include all essential elements: contact information, salutation, introduction, body paragraph, closing, and your signature.
- Structure your letter in paragraphs.
Ben Richardson highlights the importance of using specific descriptions:
“The most important point to include in an employment recommendation letter is genuine, specific examples of the candidate’s strengths or skills. You should avoid generic language or phrases that could apply to any candidate.”
Let’s say, you start your body paragraph like this: “Rebecca is ambitious and hardworking…”
This is undoubtedly the wrong word choice to describe the candidate.
Instead of generic descriptions and clichés such as “hardworking”, “dedicated”, or “highly motivated”, attempt to express your thoughts specifically.
Only when you use specific descriptions and examples associated with qualities you want to emphasize can you expect your words to have an impact.
Here are some examples of strong and informative descriptors:
- Active listening skills,
- Assertive communication skills,
- Strong persuasive communication skills, etc.
Once you finish the letter with “Sincerely” or “Kind regards” and your signature, it’s necessary to proofread and correct spelling and grammar errors.
What’s more, this way, you check if all important elements have been included.
Picture this scenario:
You are asked to write a job recommendation letter for someone you don’t know well enough, so you’re wondering whether you should do so.
Don’t feel bad about refusing to write a letter of recommendation for someone you haven’t worked closely with.
Declining this request is completely reasonable in the following situations:
- You don’t know the candidate for sufficient time,
- You haven’t worked with the candidate for a long period,
- You’re not familiar enough with their experience and qualifications, and
- You don’t think they’re a strong candidate.
Giving a recommendation in these situations would put your reputation on the line, which is certainly the last thing you want to do.
So, if you’re not sure how to say ‘No’ professionally, we’ve got you covered with the following examples:
I am honored that you chose me to write a letter of recommendation as a part of your job application.
Unfortunately, I’m afraid I’ll have to decline your request. As it has been so long since you worked with us, I’m not familiar with your current work. I believe it would be in your best interest to select someone who worked with you more recently.
I’m sorry that I can’t help you at this time.
Wish you much success in your job search!”
Before you accept to write a recommendation letter for your current or former coworker, consider:
- Whether you know the person well enough,
- For how long you have worked with them, and, ultimately,
- Whether you believe they are a strong candidate for the position.
After all, you don’t want your reputation to be hurt.
When writing an employment recommendation letter, the most important thing is to include specific descriptions of the candidate that are relevant to the position. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a look at the job posting and check what the prospective employer is looking for.
Most importantly, include a compelling example that illustrates the person’s accomplishments or skills.
✉️ What about you? Do you have experience with writing employment recommendation letters? What are some of your best tips when writing this type of letter?
Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we might include your response in this or one of our upcoming posts.