What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

Definition & Examples of a Letter of Recommendation

Young woman with curly hair is looking at a letter of recommendation on her laptop.
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A letter of recommendation is a letter written by someone who can recommend an individual's work or academic performance. It's typically sent to a hiring manager or admissions officer who is deciding whether to employ or admit a candidate.

Learn more about letters of recommendation and how to write or ask for one.

What Is a Letter of Recommendation?

A letter of recommendation describes a person's qualifications and skills as they relate to employment or education. These letters typically come from previous employers, professors, colleagues, clients, or teachers. They discuss the qualities and capabilities that make the candidate a good fit for a given position, college, or graduate school program.

How a Letter of Recommendation Works

Applicants for a job or program typically request letters of recommendation from qualified individuals, who then send them directly to the employer, other hiring personnel, admissions committee, or department. Recommenders may offer you the opportunity to review the letter before they send it, but they aren't obligated or expected to.

Requesting a Recommendation Letter

Choosing the best people to write your letter of recommendation can be tricky. The letter writer should be someone who can speak directly to the quality of your work.

The ideal recommendation would come from someone who:

  • Is familiar with your work and feels positive about it.
  • Has the time to write a letter that will truly impress a hiring manager.
  • Is in a position of authority or otherwise has a reputation that will mean something to the employer or admissions officer.

Once you approach someone and have a positive response, prepare a short list of qualities and accomplishments you’d like to highlight in the letter. You might say something like, “I know the hiring manager is particularly interested in candidates with marketing skills, so if you feel positive about my contribution to ABC project, that might be something to mention.”

Proofread your emails to the people who are writing your letters and the final letters themselves if the recommenders share them. Pay close attention to the spellings of company names and other branded entities. If you notice a mistake in the letter of recommendation, it’s perfectly OK to ask the recommender for a quick fix.

Some jobs and programs directly request letters of recommendation via email. If you know letters may be required for a job or program you're applying for, talk to potential recommenders before you start the application process so they're not caught by surprise.

Writing a Letter of Recommendation

If you’re asked to write a letter of recommendation, ask the requester for guidelines on what to include. They should be able to tell you which skills and qualifications are most important for the job or academic program.

Some organizations will provide a format for these letters; if they don’t, review letter of recommendation samples. Use them to inform your writing, but be sure to customize your letter for the specific requirements.

Recommendation Letter Example

Sarah Donatelli
Partner / Attorney
Law Firm of Howard, Lewis, and Donatelli, LLC
340 Third Street, Suite #2
Hoboken, New Jersey 07030
(000) 123-1234
sdonatelli@email.com

February 21, 2020

To Whom It May Concern:

Our senior paralegal, Jefferson Adams, has asked me to write a letter of recommendation on his behalf, and I am more than happy to oblige. Since joining our law firm as a junior paralegal in 2008, Jefferson has been my “right hand.” Within three years of his initial hiring, he was promoted to senior paralegal and tasked with supervising a team of up to 10 paralegals and interns within a fast-paced, accuracy-critical environment.  

Jefferson came to us as a recent graduate of Middlesex County College’s ABA-accredited paralegal program. He really hit the ground running, using his paralegal training to assume and manage a heavy caseload inherited from his predecessor. Within two weeks, he had brought a backlog of case files and chronologies up to date while at the same time ensuring that all court filing deadlines were met well ahead of schedule.  

Jefferson possesses a firm command of the processes required for the successful practice of personal injury law. A highly analytical thinker and excellent writer, he is adept in legal research and writing, all phases of trial preparation, and e-filing. He instills confidence in our clients and skillfully negotiates court and meeting dates with opposing counsel. 

I highly recommend Jefferson Adams to your firm. While we will sorely miss his organizational talents, leadership skills, abundant energy, and cheerful and witty demeanor, we know that he will prove himself to be a splendid and productive addition to your legal team.

Please feel free to contact me at the phone number or email listed here if you would like more information about Jefferson’s solid and admirable performance history with our firm.

Sincerely,


Sarah Donatelli

Key Takeaways

  • A letter of recommendation is a letter written by someone who can recommend an individual's work or academic performance.
  • These letters typically come from a previous employer, professor, colleague, client, or teacher. 
  • If you're requesting a letter of recommendation, ask for one from someone who is familiar with your work and feels positively about it. 
  • If you're writing a letter of recommendation, ask the requestor what should be highlighted.