An email arrives in your inbox from a former employee or coworker. You see the subject line: Request: Recommendation Letter for Job. Immediately, your stomach drops.
Of course, it’s flattering to be asked to draft a recommendation letter. But on the other hand, you have to admit that you’re dreading it. Your schedule’s already packed, and this is just one more thing to add to your never-ending to-do list.
Add to that, reference letters can be a challenge to whip up—particularly when you want to craft something that’s well-written, personalized, and truly does that person justice to a hiring manager.
But stress no more! Writing a recommendation letter for an employee no longer needs to send you into a tailspin, thanks to our easy-to-follow format and guide. (Need to write someone a LinkedIn recommendation? Get advice for that here.)
Collect Important Background Information
First things first, you need to know why you’re being asked to write the recommendation letter. Are you writing a letter of recommendation for academic reasons, a personal character reference, a new job, or something else? If the recommendee hasn’t already provided you information about what they need the letter for, ask them to supply you with the following:
- Contact details for who the letter should be addressed to
- A current resume
- The description of the position they’re seeking
- Any specific examples they’d like you to include and highlight
- The timeframe for the letter to be sent
Having this info in hand will help you focus on the right traits and accomplishments and position the person in the best way possible.
Master the Recommendation Letter Format
A good recommendation letter includes three main points: your relationship with the person you’re recommending, observations and evaluations of their work, and why they are qualified for the position.
- Establish how you worked together and for how long in a sentence or two. Did they report to you? Were they your boss? Did you work in different departments, but collaborated closely on a project?
- Evaluate the candidate’s work, focusing on their strengths and applying it to the position they’re seeking. For example, if they’re seeking a management position, showcase their leadership skills. Highlight tangible successes that can be quantified, detailing an increase in sales or how effective they were at managing budgets and/or people.
- Describe how they stood out from the rest of their colleagues and use specific examples that support your case, whether it’s taking the initiative on a complex project or spearheading a new company-wide program. Concrete anecdotes will create a lasting impression. If you can, it’s nice to seal the deal with a comparison, such as saying they’re “the most effective salesperson I’ve ever worked with” or “one of the top two employees I’ve ever managed”—as long as that’s true, of course!
Still not sure what to say? Our basic template will show you how to write a letter of recommendation that not only is personalized, but highlights why your colleague should get the position they are seeking.
Letter of Recommendation Template
Dear [First and Last Name],
It’s my absolute pleasure to recommend [Name] for [position] with [Company]. [Name] and I [relationship] at [Company] for [length of time].
I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with [Name], and came to know [him/her/them] as a truly valuable asset to our team. [He is/She is/They are] honest, dependable, and incredibly hardworking. Beyond that, [he is/she is/they are] an impressive [soft skill] who is able to [result].
[His/her/their] knowledge of [specific subject] and expertise in [specific subject] was a huge advantage to our entire office. [He/she/they] put this skill set to work in order to [specific achievement].
Along with [his/her/their] undeniable talent, [Name] has always been an absolute joy to work with. [He is/she is/they are] a true team player, and always foster[s] positive discussions and bring[s] the best out of other employees.
Without a doubt, I confidently recommend [Name] to join your team at [Company]. As a dedicated and knowledgeable employee and an all-around great person, I know that [he/she/they] will be a beneficial addition to your organization.
Please feel free to contact me at 555-123-4567 if you want to discuss [Name]’s qualifications and experience further. I’d be happy to expand on my recommendation.
Seems simple enough, right?
But I know that filling in those blanks is one of the toughest parts. So, let’s take a look at our recommendation letter example in practice, shall we?
Here’s how this recommendation letter draft would look for Joanne, a hypothetical sales employee I’d previously managed.
Recommendation Letter Sample
Dear Arya Smith,
It’s my absolute pleasure to recommend Joanne Adams for the Sales Manager position with The Sales Company.
Joanne and I worked together at Generic Sales Company, where I was her manager and direct supervisor from 2015 to 2019.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time working with Joanne and came to know her as a truly valuable asset to our team. She is honest, dependable, and incredibly hardworking. Beyond that, she is an impressive problem solver who is able to address complex issues strategically and confidently. Joanne is inspired by challenges and never intimidated by them.
Her knowledge of sales etiquette and expertise in cold calling was a huge advantage to our entire office. Not only did she put this skill set to work, but she also led a series of training sessions on cold calling with the team—increasing our total sales by over 18% in just one quarter. I know that Joanne was a huge piece of our success.
Along with her undeniable talent, Joanne has always been an absolute joy to work with. She is a true team player, and always fosters positive discussions and brings the best out of other employees.
Without a doubt, I confidently recommend Joanne to join your team at The Sales Company. As a dedicated and knowledgeable employee and an all-around great person, I know that she will be a beneficial addition to your organization.
Please feel free to contact me at 555-123-4567 if you want to discuss Joanne's qualifications and experience further. I’d be happy to expand on my recommendation.
Director of Sales
Generic Sales Company
There you have it—a reference letter that is quick to the point, enthusiastic yet professional, and would make anybody want to hire Joanne immediately.
Of course, keep in mind that this is simply a letter of recommendation template. You can definitely make some tweaks and inject creativity and personality into your own reference letter. In fact, I encourage you to do so!
In the meantime, this reference letter example should get you started and on the right track. Remember, be complimentary (while still being honest!). A negative recommendation serves no purpose, so if you find yourself going down that road, it’s better to tell the person no.
And, of course, ensure that you personalize every single letter or recommendation email that you write. The more customized you can make it, the better!