How to Write a Recommendation Letter

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A recommendation letter plays a specific role in the world of Human Resources and employment. It's occasionally needed but never preferred. Employers would rather speak directly with the former supervisors of their prospective employees. However, employers realize that direct communication is not always possible in today's hectic work world, hence the importance of the recommendation letter.

The true value of a recommendation letter is that it will last forever and while its contents may not apply years after the recommendation letter is written, a recommendation letter can be a potential gift for a valued employee.

Written on company stationery, with a clearly printed address and contact information, the recommendation letter provides a sometimes needed boost to an applicant’s credentials. As an employer, especially if you anticipate a job change, do your exiting employees a favor—supply the employee with a recommendation letter.

Contents of the Recommendation Letter

A recommendation letter is a snapshot of an employee’s performance at a certain moment in time. Consequently, give thought and care to how you write this letter and to how the information you provide will affect the reader. Also, follow your company policy in regards to a recommendation letter, if a policy exists.

You might even want to ask your Human Resources department to review your recommendation letter so you're certain you're protecting your company’s best interests—as well as your own.

Consider the following guidelines when constructing your employee's letter of recommendation:

  • Prepare the letter on original company stationery with printed address, phone, email, and additional contact information in a standard business letter format. You can provide the employee with several copies of the recommendation letter on stationery in a stationery envelope. 
  • Address the recommendation letter to the specific employer who is requesting the recommendation letter, or to whom the employee plans to send the recommendation letter. If the recommendation letter is generic, address the letter to: "To Whom It May Concern."
  • Sign the recommendation letter in ink and include your name, job title, phone extension, and email address.
  • Begin with: This is a letter of recommendation for the Employee’s Name.
  • Describe your relationship with the employee, the employee’s job title, and the department where the employee worked. For example, “I was Mark’s supervisor when he worked as a skilled trades machine operator in the Lather Department at Alcon Tool.”
  • Describe the key responsibilities of the employee’s job. For example, “Mark’s main responsibilities were operating they xyz machine, maintaining company tools and equipment, creating a safe and well-kept work area, troubleshooting machine problems, serving as the day shift team leader and filling in for me as substitute supervisor in my absence. He also served as the head of the employee involvement team.
  • In the main body of the recommendation letter, provide your overall assessment of the employee’s contribution and value. The statement should reflect that the assessment is for Mark’s performance at a certain point in time. For example, “Mark was a valued employee who contributed well above the norm when he worked in my department. This was apparent in how he handled his assignments and in his leadership roles.”
  • State why Mark left your employment in the recommendation letter if the reasons are supportive of Mark's next employment opportunity. For example, “Mark left Alcon Tool to accept the position of supervisor at another company. A supervisor job would not have been available here for several years.”
  • Finish the recommendation letter on a positive note. For example, “We were sorry to see Mark Alcon Tool but wished him all the best in his new job as supervisor.”
  • Finally, state that the potential employer can contact you if he or she needs additional information. Sign and complete the recommendation letter.

And don't forget when the letter is complete to place a copy of the recommendation letter in the employee’s personnel file.