How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for a Co-Worker

Image by Kelly Miller. © The Balance 2018 

Have you been asked to write a letter of recommendation for a co-worker? If so, you might be wondering what to say to help them achieve their goals. After all, your teammate doesn’t report directly to you. You didn’t set their objectives or administer their annual performance review. So how can you help them make a good impression on a hiring manager, supervisor, or selection committee?

Understand that you have unique insight into their capabilities at work. As someone who worked alongside your colleague, you can attest not only to their skills and achievements, but also to their working style, reliability, and attitude.

How to Write a Letter of Recommendation for a Co-Worker

First things first: If you can't write a positive letter without fibbing or stretching the truth, don't do it at all.

A lukewarm recommendation won't help their cause, nor will any praise that's less than 100% genuine. No matter how much you want to help your current or former co-worker, recommending them when you're not enthusiastic about their skills won't be beneficial. Giving a bad reference is, of course, even worse and could be a legal issue. 

Most people are bad at stretching the truth, but good at telling when they're being dealt with dishonestly. It's better just to say no. (If you're in this position, learn how to decline a request graciously.)

If you have nothing but positive things to say, however, observing a few guidelines can help you write the best possible letter of recommendation, and help your co-worker get the job. Start by asking your colleague the right questions.

Ask These Questions Before Writing a Letter of Recommendation

1. To Whom Should I Address This Letter?
Sometimes, your co-worker will need a general letter of recommendation, in which case, "To Whom It May Concern" may work fine. For personal letters of recommendation, however, the more precise you can be about the addressee, the better.

2. Can I See a Copy of Your Resume and the Job Description?
Feel nosy? Don't. The goal is to make sure that you're on the same page as far as details like work history and skills, and to make sure that you're pointing out achievements and attributes that will mean the most to the hiring manager. You have a few minutes at most to make a good impression on your colleague's behalf. Make sure they count.

3. Which Achievements Do You Want Me to Highlight?
The good news is that every passing year gives us new projects and skills to add to our resume; the bad news is that after enough time, it's easy to lose the signal in the noise.

Don't try to show off everything your colleague has ever done. Work together to emphasize the achievements that will mean the most to the hiring manager.

4. What Problems Can You Solve for This Organization?
Anyone who's ever written a resume or a cover letter has read more than enough advice about verbs and keywords, but there's a reason career experts go on and on about these action words. Ultimately, the company that's considering your co-worker wants to know what he or she will do for them.

It doesn't matter if they're creative if they never create, or passionate if their passion doesn't translate into dollars and cents. By talking about problem-solving, you're getting fodder for a cover letter that builds a case for hiring this person. That's a lot better than just having something nice to say.

5. Is There Anything I Shouldn't Mention?
Of course, you don't want to lie in your letter of recommendation, but you're also not obligated to provide the employer with reasons not to hire your friend. Your co-worker might tell you, for example, that she'd prefer you not mention her stint in marketing while she’s applying for this editorial job, or to say that she has 15 years of experience if she's hoping not to appear overqualified.

What to Include in Your Letter of Recommendation

Make sure your letter contains the following:

Accurate Information: No lies, no tall tales, no cases of mistaken identity. It is why it's important to have that conversation with your co-worker before you write the letter. You might remember that he spearheaded a project that boosted sales 10%, but in fact, that was his cubicle-mate. Make sure you get the details right.

Along these lines, it's also important to know exactly when you worked with this person and to make certain that you agree on dates and times.

A mismatch, however, innocent, might lead a recruiter to think that one of you is lying or that you don't really recall your time with your colleague all that well and might be a less-than-reliable narrator.

Measurable Data: And speaking of boosting sales 10%, that's the kind of information you want to provide – "boosted sales 10%" is better than just "boosted sales." The more specific you can be, the better. If you can show how your colleague made or saved the company money, so much the better.

Grammatically Correct, Perfectly Spelled Writing: Your praise won't do your co-worker much good if you appear to be less than on-the-ball yourself. Fairly or not, we judge each other by presentation, and in a letter of recommendation, that means spelling and grammar. Have a friend check over your work before you submit it, just as you would your own resume or cover letter.

A Good Subject Line, If You’re Sending Your Letter By Email: To make sure your email doesn’t get caught in a spam filter or ignored by the recipient, be sure to pick a subject line that’s concise and clear, e.g., “Recommendation – Peter Brown.” 

​Recommendation Letter Sample for a Co-Worker

You can use this recommendation letter sample as a model. Download the template (compatible with Google Docs and Microsoft Word), or read the text version below.

letter of recommendation sample for a co-worker
©TheBalance 2018 

Letter of Recommendation for a Coworker (Text Version)

Subject: Recommendation for Ben Smith

Dear Ms. Johnson,

As Ben Smith's teammate at XYZ Agency for the past five years, I've benefited from his creative problem-solving, tireless work ethic, and willingness to do whatever it takes to create a product that will translate the customer's vision into reality.

Ben is directly responsible for increasing client retention by X percent, and I know for a fact that his reputation and commitment helped the company bring in several large new clients, of which Wakeup Soda is the most visible example. (You remember the billboards everyone was talking about this summer. That was his project.)

As a colleague, Ben is incredibly generous with his time and expertise, which includes everything from 10 years of management experience to an expert-level knowledge of InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Beyond that, his co-worker, I have to say that his humor and good nature make long nights and tough deadlines much easier on his team.

I'd be happy to answer any questions you might have about his specific skills and experience.

Thanks, and best regards,

Jane Anderson
jane.anderson@emailaddress.com
(555) 555-5555

Article Sources

  1. CareerOneStop. "References," Accessed Nov. 12, 2019.

  2. SHRM. "Can Employers Give a Bad Reference for a Former Employee?," Accessed Nov. 12, 2019.