For some jobs, employers request written letters of recommendation. They may even request them as part of the application process. In these cases, applicants need to submit recommendation letters (typically two or three) along with their resume and cover letter.
Other employers may ask for references further along in the hiring process, either at the end of an interview or afterwards.
These letters of recommendation carry significant weight to their recipients. If you're asked to write one, it's important to include details that build a strong case for the applicant. If you do not feel comfortable endorsing the applicant, it's better to decline to write a letter than to write something lukewarm.
Here's what you need to know to write a positive letter supporting a job applicant.
Tips for Writing a Recommendation Letter
If you’re asked to provide a reference for a specific job, you should write the letter with the requirements of that particular job in mind.
Read the posting or job description carefully, looking for specific skills and knowledge that you can include in the letter for your candidate.
In your letter, note where there is a match between the applicant's qualifications and the job's responsibilities.
With a general recommendation letter, focus on the types or category of jobs for which the person is applying. Your examples in this type of letter will be more broad, and less specific.
Collect Information Before You Start
Ask the person for whom you are writing to supply you with a copy of the job posting and their resume or curriculum vitae (CV) before you begin composing your letter. It can also be helpful to review their cover letter to see how they themselves pitch their qualifications for the job.
When you are writing a more general recommendation, ask the subject of your letter to outline their targets for employment, along with providing you with an example or two of jobs they are applying for.
Also ask them to share their most marketable assets for that type of work, especially ones you may have observed in your relationship with the person you are recommending.
The more information you have about the jobs or types of jobs the candidate is applying for, the more effective your recommendation can be.
What to Include in a Recommendation Letter
The first paragraph of your letter should explain how you know the person for whom you are writing. Reference your job title and the individual's job title at the time when you interacted, as well as the nature of your relationship, including whether you supervised the person you're recommending.
Typically, you would also include the length of time you have known the person.
Body of the Letter
The body of your letter should reference the skills, qualities, areas of knowledge, and other assets of the person you are recommending. Start by making a list of the strengths which you would like to convey in your recommendation.
Then compose sentences that show proof of your assertions—this will make your letter more credible. Provide specific examples of instances where you observed the candidate using skills they are highlighting to the hiring manager.
This might consist of a project or role where they successfully applied a certain skill. Citing accomplishments where value was added to your organization and describing the strengths which enabled the person to generate those results can be particularly compelling. If you can quantify the individual’s specific contributions with impressive sales or dollar figures, numbers, or percentages, this is even better (Example: “Joan led our sales team to achieve an unprecedented 48% growth in lead generation last quarter”).
In your closing statement, it can be very effective to mention that you would hire the person again. Or, mention your belief that the person would be an outstanding addition to the company.
Share Your Contact Information
As part of your close, you can also share a telephone number and email address with a mention of your eagerness to share additional perspective on the candidate. That way, potential employers can easily get in touch if they have any follow-up questions.
Employment Recommendation Letter Example and Template
Download the letter template (compatible with Google Docs or Word Online) or read the example below.
Employment Recommendation Letter Example (Text Version)
14 Oak Drive
Anycity, CT 32444
May 26, 2020.
Domestic Sales Manager
321 Main Street
Bigtown, NY 12000
Dear Ms. Gray,
I am writing to you regarding Mark Slade, who has applied for the position of sales associate with your company. Mark has worked in my department as a sales associate since graduating with honors last year from University of Connecticut. We hired him after graduation in part due to his outstanding performance as an intern the previous summer.
Mark has been a fantastic addition to my team. He assimilated easily into our department, quickly and thoroughly learning about all of our products, not just those he was responsible for selling. His enthusiasm for his work and his superb communication skills made him an instant asset to the company. Mark exceeded his personal goals for every quarter and even made time to help his peers close particularly difficult sales. Mark is competent and organized, and his positive attitude and sense of humor made him popular among our customers as well as his colleagues.
I believe that Mark has a tremendous amount of potential and would be an outstanding addition to your staff. I would have no reservations about hiring him again and am confident in recommending Mark for employment with your company. If you have any further questions or would like to speak with me personally, please feel free to contact me.
Your Handwritten Signature (for a hard copy letter)
Formatting Your Letter
Here are guidelines for formatting recommendation letters including length, format, font, and how to organize your letters. If this is your first time writing a letter of recommendation, you may find it helpful to use a template.
Sending Your Letter
You may be asked to send the letter to the person you are recommending or directly to the employer. If you’re sending via email, attach a copy of your letter to the email message as a PDF or Microsoft Word document. The job posting or the employer will typically specify how the recommendation should be sent and who it should be sent to.
When You Can’t Write a Positive Recommendation
If you have difficulty honestly framing a compelling letter for a candidate, then it's fine to decline the request.
It's actually better to say no than it is to write a letter that doesn't strongly endorse the person you are recommending.
You can simply say something vague like you don't feel totally comfortable writing a recommendation or you don't have the type of exposure that would enable you to supply the right kind of letter.