When it comes to landing that dream job, good references go a long way in helping make it happen. Most employers don’t just want to hear from you how great you are, but also listen to what your friends, colleagues and past bosses think.

You might have previously asked for a letter of recommendation, but have you had to write one? You certainly don’t want to make a mistake with it – your words can have a big impact. It would suck to know your recommendation letter didn’t help the person at all, wouldn’t it?

But it’s time to take the stress out of the recommendation letter. In this guide, you’ll receive a sample of a recommendation to guarantee you know how to impress and help a job hunter land a dream role.

Before we look at the sample, let’s take a quick peek at why a recommendation letter matters and the building blocks to a good recommendation letter.

THE POWER OF A GOOD RECOMMENDATION LETTER

You might still be skeptical about the recommendation letter. After all, doesn’t it matter more what kind of resume the person sends and how well they do in the job interview? While you certainly can’t hire a horrible candidate based on a recommendation letter, you can find that the words convince you between two candidates. A good job recommendation letter can reinforce the hiring manager’s perception of the person and therefore, make it more likely they get a chance.

You need to understand that a good recommendation letter is not just a collection of praise. It acts similarly to any other part of the job application process – it provides information on the candidate. Furthermore, this information is even more valuable because it comes from an external source. The person isn’t telling you his or her own opinion of those skills, but another person is reinforcing the things the candidate has mentioned. You are getting actual proof the candidate has the skills he or she claims to have.

The recommendation letter sheds light on the candidate’s journey. The hiring manager can learn more about the candidate’s work or academic history and the kind of attitude he or she has – there’s a deeper look into the working culture of the person.

As you can see, the recommendation letter can play a key role in introducing the candidate to the hiring manager. It’s especially valuable because the information is coming from someone who knows the person. We can all play our own trumpet, right? But will you get your colleagues, friends and bosses agree with you? That’s the power of a recommendation letter.

THE KEY FEATURES OF A GOOD RECOMMENDATION LETTER

So, the recommendation letter matters. But what makes a recommendation letter stand out from the crowd? What makes it a great recommendation letter instead of just a good one?

There are, essentially, three key features in a great recommendation letter:

There is a strong link between the person writing the letter and the candidate applying for the role.

There has to be a connection and not just some random acquaintance. You can’t have a friend of a friend evaluate the candidate’s skills and characteristic – the hiring manager must get a proper sense of why you are the right person to talk about the candidate. Why is your information valid and valuable?

You can show this connection by:

  • Outlining the relationship.
  • Explaining how long you’ve known the person.

Here are a few good example sentences for you to draw inspiration from:

It’s my pleasure to provide this letter of recommendation for Lauren Doe, whose team manager I used to be for four years at Company ZYX.
I’m very pleased to recommend John Smith for the position of Accounts Manager for Company ZYX. As a fellow Junior Manager at Business YZX, I’ve worked alongside John for the past five years.
It’s my pleasure to recommend my charity board member and dear friend, Jane Johnson, for the editor role at Company ZYX. I’ve known Jane for almost a decade and can attest to her strength of character and compassion for others.

There is an explanation on the candidate’s fit for the particular role in the light of the candidate’s performance and behaviour in the role you known them for.

Now, you must also talk about why the candidate is a good fit for the role. Just like the resume must be tailored according to what the employer is looking for, your recommendation letter must also consider this. It’s important to talk about the skills and qualifications that matter in this particular role.

It’s also essential to avoid just listing those skills and saying the candidate has the capabilities. You must showcase the skills with real experiences in the past. For example, how the candidate showed his or her leadership during a tricky period at work when you were his or her manager. You want to link those skills to real life experience through the connection.

Here are a few example sentences you can use for ideas:

Lauren graduated with honors in Teaching, always focused on becoming a science teacher one day. She showed this passion at university by leading my tutoring group for the whole duration of her studies.
I believe John would be a great addition to the international marketing team at Company ZYX. When I worked with him at Business YXZ, he was able to attract numerous new clients from Asia – his immaculate language skills in Japanese certainly helped.
Jane worked as my assistant for five years, helping me with scheduling and maintaining close client relations. I believe her skills are well-suited for the Client Manager role at Company ZYX.

There are real examples of the candidate’s characteristics.

Again, when you are painting a picture of the candidate, you want to use real examples. You don’t just want to say, “He is an honest worker”. You want to show why you are saying that – what has he done to prove you this aspect of himself? Instead of just listing characteristics and skills, you must show them.

You can see how to do this with the example sentences below:

Lauren showed her ability to quick thinking, by helping our organization sort out a booking disaster in July 2017. She was always up for the challenge and stayed calm under pressure.
His ability to improve performance was clear when he won the top salesperson award for six months in a row.

THE PURPOSE OF YOUR RECOMMENDATION LETTER

Now, the above are the building blocks of a good recommendation letter. But as you could see from the variety of examples used, the purpose of the letter matters as well. The connection you have with the candidate and the reason for writing the letter will have an impact on the kind of language you should use, and the things you should mention.

There are, essentially, three types of recommendation letters:

  • The academic letter of recommendation
  • The professional letter of recommendation
  • The character/personal letter of recommendation

The academic letter of recommendation

The academic letter of recommendation is often the go-to recommendation letter for graduates. The candidate probably doesn’t have a lot of job experience yet and therefore a tutor or a professor can provide the most in-depth information about the candidate. These can, of course, be highly useful for those pursuing an academic career – being recommended by someone who works in the same field can be highly beneficial.

Professors, teachers, tutors and other school representatives write these letters. They focus on the relationship between the skills learnt at the academic environment and the characteristics the person showed during this time.

Here are short examples of what might be said in an academic letter – especially in terms of the above three key features:

I’m writing this letter for Lauren Doe, a student I was fortunate to work with during her undergraduate studies at University ZYX. As her academic advisor and the professor of International Law, I have witnessed her journey to a fantastic law graduate. 

Lauren showed exceptional understanding of the field, as well as a passion for helping others. Therefore, I believe she would make a great candidate for the role of Charity Lawyer at Company XYZ.

I’m writing this reference at the request of John Smith who is applying for the position of Science Teacher at ZYX.

I’ve been John’s teacher for two years in my capacity as Physics Teacher at School 123. John was an exceptional student with strong academic record – he received the highest grades in all subjects. But John was also compassionate and always looking to help others. He worked under my supervision as a tutor, helping struggling students improve their marks.

The professional letter of recommendation

In terms of most job applicants, the professional letter of recommendation is the most common. This is a letter from your work colleague, manager or boss. It’s perhaps the most adequate because it can reflect your previous work experience and work performance more in detail. The emphasis of this recommendation letter is on the work experience, work ethic and skills you’ve shown.

This recommendation letter is useful in many situations, especially when moving from one role to another similar role. It’s also a good way of outlining the candidate’s approach to work and therefore, can be helpful even when the candidate is looking to change career paths.

Here are some examples of what a professional letter of recommendation might say:

I’m pleased to hear Lauren Doe has applied for the position of Junior Lawyer at Company XYZ. Lauren worked in a team I managed at Business ZYX from 2014 to 2016 and I found her a hardworking and efficient member of the team.

She was highly motivated. Although she worked as an associate, she still helped our team to find new clients and act as the first point of reference to our senior clients.

As John Smith’s teammate at Company ZYX for the past four years, I’ve witnessed his passion for sales and his ability to solve problems creatively.

He would make a great Sales Manager at Business XYZ because he has always shown willingness to find new clients. We were in charge of negotiating a new contract and he took the great initiative at looking for suitable opportunities beyond our regional options.

As a work colleague, he was always willing to help and offer support. I loved his easy-going attitude and the ability to make us all feel part of the team.

The character/personal letter of recommendation

Now, sometimes candidates might not have access to their previous professors or it’s not possible for them to seek a professional letter of recommendation. Especially for young people, having a friend recommend you might be the only option. This is possible through a character or personal recommendation letter. As the name suggests, the emphasis of the letter is on the character of the person.

This is a lot less formal letter in the sense that you are probably not qualified to talk too much about the skills the person have since the connection is based on personal knowledge not academic or professional. However, a person’s character does matter – the way they approach problems and challenges in life can tell a lot about what they’d be like at work.

The character letter of recommendation should be written by someone who knows the candidate well but isn’t professionally or academically directly in connection with them. It could, of course, be a school friend, a work colleague from a different department or a long-term friend. The key is that you are able to judge the person’s character – just don’t be related to them!

Here are a few examples of the things a personal letter of recommendation could say:

I have known Lauren Doe for ten years through various different roles. We’ve been on the board of a children’s charity together and she has worked in the same organization as I, at Company ZYX, albeit at a different department. Through the year’s I’ve seen what a capable and compassionate person she is.

She was very detail-oriented during our time at the charity and I believe this would help her launching your startup XYZ. She is also a compassionate friend that is always looking to ensure the group of friends is having a good time – a great quality for someone working in customer service.

I have known John Smith personally for over fifteen years and have always found him to be an organized and talented individual. His skills and character would make him perfect for the Sales role at Company ZYX.

John was working for Business XYZ in a junior sales role when we met and I believe he was a highly regarded member of the team. Shortly, he received a promotion and enjoyed his time as a manager immensely. He is ambitious and always looking to improve his skills – I’ve attended numerous seminars with him, as I also work in sales at Startup XY.

A TYPICAL SAMPLE OF A RECOMMENDATION LETTER

With all that in mind, what does a good recommendation letter look like? First, here is the format of a good recommendation letter:

Contact details

Date

Appropriate salutation

First paragraph:

  • The reason for writing
  • The connection to the person and the reason you’re qualified to recommend them

Second paragraph:

  • Information and examples of the person’s skills and characteristics and how they would fit the job role
  • Examples of how they could contribute in the specific role based on your experiences with the person

Third paragraph/Concluding paragraph:

  • Summary of the above points
  • Further contact details

Closing

Signature

You can use the above template format, together with the examples above to create a strong recommendation letter. You want to make sure the language reflects the connection and your qualifications in those paragraphs so use the above examples to your advantage.

Don’t keep blabbering on – you want to keep your letter brief. A single Word-page will be sufficient, as you can always offer the person the opportunity to discuss the matter further by phone or via email. However, you need to have at least three to four paragraphs – otherwise, it’ll look like you didn’t really put any effort into your recommendation letter.

Make sure you know who to address the letter (the candidate should know this). If you don’t have any inkling of this, then you can address the letter with “To Whom It May Concern” – but it really should be the candidate’s job to find out who reads the job application.

Here’s a sample of a basic recommendation letter:

Ms Jane Smith
Accounts Manager
Company ZYX
123 High Street
Big City, 123420 September 2017Dear Mr Johnson, I met Lauren when she first started working at Company ZYX as Sales Representative six years ago. During that time, I spent four years as her manager before moving to my current role as Accounts Manager and I have known her to be enthusiastic and to possess a high expertise for sales.

Lauren was an incredibly talented salesperson, increasing the team’s sales by 10% during the first year. I believe she has a great quality to notice areas of improvement and she would, therefore, be a great asset to your new department. Lauren is always looking for the improvements – during her time at Company ZYX, she introduced two new working systems that helped us drive sales further.

I believe she would make an excellent addition to your new team, as she has the ability to communicate her ideas clearly, make team members feel at ease and help solve problems. I included her in our conflict resolution team right from the start because of Lauren’s friendly approach to treating customers and clients.

During my acquaintance with Lauren, I’ve found her hardworking, efficient and a fantastic member of a team. I would highly recommend her for the role of Sales Manager at Business XYZ.

Please feel free to contact me at 123-456 if you want to discuss the topic further.

Sincerely,

Jane Smith
Accounts Manager at Company ZYX

THE SECRET OF A GREAT RECOMMENDATION LETTER

The above examples and samples should help you create a great recommendation letter for a friend, a colleague, a student or other such acquaintance. You just need to focus on the main elements of a recommendation letter, which is to highlight the candidate’s performance and character. To emphasize their fit to the role through their past behavior and performance.

Maintain a positive note but be truthful. Just as the candidate shouldn’t lie on their resume, neither should you in the recommendation letter. However, you will want to focus on the positives – if you don’t have anything positive to say, don’t agree to write the letter!

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