A recommendation letter (or a reference letter) is written by
a manager (or coworker) to highlight an employee’s skills and achievements
during the time they worked together. It also contains information about the
employee’s attitude at work to give a potential employer a glimpse of what it’s
like to work with them.
Companies often request recommendation letters when
conducting a background check before extending a job offer to an applicant. In
some cases, they require applicants to send one a few weeks after submitting their resume.
Students also use recommendation letters when applying for
school admission, scholarship grants, and research grants.
In this guide, I’ll show you how to write a professional recommendation letter, so you know what to do when a colleague
or former employees requests one from you.
Why Make an Effort in Writing a Good Recommendation Letter?
I know what you’re thinking. You’re not the one getting a
job, so why bother writing a good letter?
Below are three reasons it’s worth making an effort to write
a good recommendation letter.
- A potential
source of referral: What if by some twist of fate, you wind up applying where
the person you recommended now works? If you helped them before, they’d be more inclined to return the favor.
- It’s a good professional deed,
and it’s nice to know that what you wrote helped someone get a job.
- If the person who made the request was a model
employee, then you owe it to that person to write a recommendation letter
worthy of all the effort and sacrifices they made while working with you.
How to Write a Recommendation Letter + Examples and Templates
Here’s a breakdown of the different parts of a
recommendation letter, plus examples to give you an idea of what each section
includes. You can also download our FREE recommendation letter templates PDF file,
which includes a letter for a laid-off employee.
1. Start With the Inside Address and Salutation
Use the company’s letterhead to make your recommendation
letter look formal. Put the date when you wrote the letter on the first line, and then write the recipient’s name,
position, and business address below that.
Here’s an Example to Follow
October 22, 2017
Chief Marketing Officer, ABC Startup
123 Main St. Northeast Harbor, ME 04662
Since this is a formal letter, start the greeting with “Dear” followed by the right salutation
for the recipient, so write either “Mr.”,
“Ms.”, or their professional
designation, such as “Professor” or “Dr.” for doctor.
The use of informal greetings such as “Hi” or “Hello” may be
frowned upon in certain industries where recruiters
and decision-makers are strict about such professional formalities, so
err on the side of caution.
2. Open Your Recommendation Letter Right
Let’s look at how to start a letter of recommendation. The first paragraph or the opening of the recommendation
letter is easy to write because all you have to do is mention the details of
your working relationship with the person you’re recommending.
- Your job title
- The name of the person you’re
- Their job title
- Your working relationship: boss or
- Length of time you worked together
the Project Manager for Spectrum Finance, I was Kevin’s direct supervisor from
2010 to 2013. We worked closely on several product launches, and I enjoyed watching him grow as a business analyst in
3. Write a Good Recommendation Letter Body
The letter body has two to three paragraphs that include
details of the skills, knowledge, and achievements of the person you’re
To keep the letter concise, start with a list of the
person’s areas of expertise, and then try to remember situations where you witnessed
those strengths such as previous projects or a problem they solved at work.
Once you have this list, pick two to three items that best represent the
candidate’s value to a potential employer. You can also use the Challenge-Action-Result
format to write a short but compelling story about the candidate.
Write about your thoughts on the candidate’s soft skills or
attitude as an employee in the last paragraph of the body. Employers don’t hire applicants based on technical
skills alone, so mention positive attributes such as dependability, initiative,
and honesty, as well. If you feel like those descriptors don’t fit the
person you’re recommending, try:
- Good communications
- Analytical thinking
“Cassie’s knowledge of marketing and expertise in
public relations was a huge advantage to our business. She used her skills in
influencer marketing and writing to get our small brand noticed by prominent publications such as Marie Claire and
She also completed her tasks with minimal supervision,
that’s why I was confident in giving her more
significant projects to handle. Despite her hectic schedule, she’s
always on excellent terms with her colleagues and other teams.”
4. Nail the Recommendation Letter’s Closing Paragraph
Write that you’d be willing to hire the person again, but
only if you can honestly say this. If not, you can end the recommendation
letter on a positive note by emphasizing how valuable the person’s contribution
was to the company, or stress how that the person’s skills will be an asset to
whoever hires them next. End the paragraph with an invitation to contact you if
the recipient has follow-up questions.
“For all the reasons I wrote above, I give Mark my
strongest recommendation for the position of Senior Web Developer. Please don’t
hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.”
“Louie is the kind of employee I would hire again with
no hesitation. I know she’ll make an excellent graphic designer and a valuable asset
to your team. Please email me if you have any questions.”
5. Close With a Professional Signature
Don’t just write “Sincerely”
followed by your name and leave it at that. Include your job title, office
email address, and work telephone number below your signature to show the
recipient that you’re a legitimate source of recommendation—not a phony paid to
give a good recommendation.
Those are the basic
parts of a recommendation letter. If you want
more examples, check out the fill-in-the-blanks template below and download the FREE PDF attachment for this tutorial.
Recipient’s Complete Name
Recipient’s Job Title
Recipient’s Office Address
It’s my pleasure to recommend my former subordinate/co-worker,
Name, for the position of
Job Title in your company.
Name worked with me as
Previous Job Title at Y
our Company’s Name for almost
Number of Years. During
that time, I was impressed by his/her overall performance, particularly in
his/her knowledge in
Skill. He/She consistently worked hard to achieve
for our team.
Name is a reliable
Previous Job Title and a joy to work with who doesn’t hesitate to help his/her co-workers. He/she is also an excellent communicator and
Soft Skill, that’s why
he/she doesn’t have trouble maintaining a positive relationship with our
clients. I’m confident Name will be a great asset to your team, just as he/she
was in ours.
Please contact me if you’d like to discuss
professional experience further.
Your name and job title
Office telephone number
3 Quick Tips to Write a Better Recommendation
Tip 1. Keep it Short
The letter’s recipient could be a third-party recruiter, a company hired to do background checks, or the future manager of the person
you’re recommending. Whoever it is, that person will be busy with other items
on their to-do lists. They don’t have time to
read a long and rambling letter, so keep your recommendation letter concise.
Limit it to three to five paragraphs and no more than one page.
Tip 2. Send it Using the Right Format
If the company doing the background check sent the request,
you could send the letter using the same
method they used, unless their instructions say otherwise. If the request came from a former employee or
co-worker, just ask them how they’d like you to send it.
In most cases, employers prefer that you send the
recommendation letter via email by pasting the contents of the letter in the body of the email, and attaching it in both PDF and MS Word format.
Tip 3. Avoid Generic Descriptions
Bland adjectives like hardworking, dedicated, and friendly,
don’t help anyone. These words won’t add value to the application of the person
you’re recommending, and it won’t help the recipient decide on the candidate fit
either. These adjectives are nothing but empty promises that don’t demonstrate
how the person exemplifies them.
Replace these adjectives with a combination of strong verbs and specific examples. So instead
of writing that your coworker is dedicated
to their craft, talk about their eagerness to learn new skills and work on
What If You Can’t Write a Positive Recommendation?
Decline the request. I know it’s not as simple as it sounds, but that’s the best you can do without lying to yourself and the person who
will read the letter.
It’s also better for the candidate if you say no. If you
wrote a lukewarm recommendation and their potential employer reads it, they might decide not to continue with the job
It might feel awkward to decline the request if you can’t
provide a good reason for saying no. Just say you’re not comfortable writing a
recommendation letter and that a letter from someone else might serve them
If you really can’t back out because it’s company policy for
you to provide a reference, just write a brief
letter listing the person’s job title and responsibilities. Alison Green of Ask
a Manager has more tips on this subject at her article