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How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Instructor: Allison Tanner
Do your staff or students need letters of recommendation? There really is an art to writing a great letter. This lesson will outline the basic rules and structure that will help you to write the perfect letter or recommendation.

Writing a Letter of Recommendation

Dear Sir/Madam, To Whom It May Concern, Dear Selection Committee....

Staring desperately at your computer screen you have no idea what to write. Anna, a longtime employee of yours has asked you to write her a letter of recommendation for a supervisory position she is applying for. You are happy to do it, but you just aren't sure where to start. Writing a letter of recommendation can be a difficult task. It is also an extremely important part of being a leader in the world of business. There are many ways to address the letter of recommendation, but the basic format of the letter should stay the same.

Rules

Before you start writing a letter of recommendation there are a few basic rules you should keep in mind.

  • One Page Only: Letters of recommendation should be kept to one page, unless more specific information is requested. As you can imagine, hiring managers are extremely busy and only have time to quickly glance at the letters before deciding whether they will review the candidate further.
  • Stick to the Positives: Unless you speak to the candidate first, or she requests that you mention weaknesses or areas of growth, it is best to leave this information out. Maybe Anna needs to be more patient, but telling the hiring manager that she is overly eager, and needs to improve patience, can sound contradictory to the rest of the letter.
  • Proofread: While proofreading may sound like 'common sense', it is especially important when writing a letter of recommendation. One spelling error can cause the hiring manager to throw out the letter of support for the candidate. Imagine if you spelled Anna's name wrong? It may look like you don't actually know her very well.
  • Make it Personal: Generic letters of recommendation can be helpful for getting you started, but you want to be sure to write letters specific to the candidate and the position she is applying for. Even if you wrote a similar letter for an employee last year, you need to write Anna's letter in a way that describes her unique qualifications and how they relate to the job she is applying for.
  • Sign and Date: Always remember to sign and date the letter. Dating the letter lets the reader know how recent the recommendation was. If you wrote the letter for Anna a year ago, then it may not accurately describe her work. After all, people change. More importantly, the date and signature show your personal and professional support for the application Anna is submitting.

Now that you know the basic rules of writing a letter of recommendation, you can now consider the six basic sections that should be in each letter.

Address and Date

The address informs the reader of the intended recipient. It should be aligned to the left and it should include the name and title of the recipient and a physical address. If the name of the recipient is unknown, you can put 'Dear Sir/Madam', or 'To Whom It May Concern'. However, it is much better to address the letter to someone specific so you should try to get the name of the person who will be receiving the letter.

As described in the rules, the date allows the reader to know how recently the letter was written and how relevant it is to the current application.

Relationship to the Candidate

The written section of a recommendation letter should always be your relationship to the candidate and your support for the position she is applying for. The reader wants to know how you know the candidate and if you know what she is applying for, or if you have simply written a generic recommendation letter.

Consider the letter you are writing for Anna. Anna started working for you five years ago as a cashier. Today, she is a lead cashier and she assists with the cash handling processes. This means she has taken responsibility of counting the safe and taking daily deposits to the bank.

Quality of Work

After you inform the reader of how you know the candidate, and what type of work she was doing at the time, you now want to give a brief evaluation of her work.

Anna is always on time, never makes mistakes, and she completes tasks in a timely manner.

These are important qualities in business and you want to be sure to let the reader know that Anna is a driven employee who takes great care in her work. Using key words such as timely and accurate can grab the attention of the reader. These types of qualities are highly desirable and will keep the reader interested in Anna's potential.

Individual Characteristics

Once you have evaluated the quality of work, you should now discuss how Anna's individual characteristics allow her to be successful, and how they fit with the position she has applied for.

If Anna is an enthusiastic, hardworking, and passionate individual, with a keen sense of business as well as great leadership skills, be sure to include this in the letter. You need to let the reader know what characteristics are unique to Anna.

You also want to relate this information to the particular job application. Anna may have fantastic characteristics, but they only matter if they are a match for the position she is applying for.

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