Are you tasked with writing a recommendation letter for someone and not sure where to start? While all letters should be uniquely customized to the candidate, most share a certain fixed structure.
This guide will go over this structure piece by piece to help you through the writing process. Read on for a recommendation letter template that you can use to shape your recommendation letter. To begin, let’s review the purpose of reference letters for job seekers.
What's the Purpose of Recommendation Letters?
Hiring managers often ask for a recommendation letter or two from applicants to gain an outside perspective on their qualifications. Reference letters can confirm and complement a candidate’s story, as well as speak to specific skills and achievements.
As a letter writer, you can give specific examples of the candidate’s long-term work and day-to-day behavior. Managers or coworkers are great sources to describe what it’s like to supervise or collaborate with the candidate.
In its most basic role, a letter of recommendation confirms the candidate’s dates of employment and job responsibilities. The most memorable references, though, go beyond a statement of verification to paint a picture of the candidate. They stand as powerful statements of support as the hiring manager decides which applicant would best fill the prospective position.
Writing a letter of recommendation can be a tall assignment, so I've broken down the process into steps. Read on to learn about the stages of the letter writing process.
Step one is all about listening to what the candidate has to say.
Writing a Letter of Recommendation in 4 Steps
Below are four major steps of writing your recommendation letter: 1, learn about the job; 2, brainstorm ideas; 3, draft your letter; and 4, edit for clarity. Once you get to the drafting stage, you can use the descriptive template below to structure your letter.
Your first step should be to speak with the candidate. Before putting pen to paper (or more realistically, fingers to keyboard), ask her to tell you more about the new job.
Step 1: Learn About the New Job
Before starting to write your letter, you might meet with the candidate to gather all the important information and materials. Find out about the new job and its requirements. Get a copy of the candidate’s resume. Ask her if there are any particular qualities or skills she’d like you to emphasize to show she’d make a good fit with the new job.
For example, let's pretend you’re writing a letter of recommendation for a member of your support team. If she’s moving and applying to a similar position, then you could focus in on her excellent customer service skills. If she’s applying to a position of leadership, though, then you might focus more on times when she showed managerial skills or maintained productive relationships with her coworkers.
You also might mention the reason that the candidate’s applying elsewhere. If she’s moving out of state, then you could say this while adding that you’d retain or hire her again if you could. It’s not totally necessary, but touching on the reason for the application might present another opportunity to show support.
Once you “have your assignment,” you can start to brainstorm ideas for your letter. What skills, qualities, or achievements should you highlight, and what specific examples can you include?
Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas for Your Letter
Once you have a sense of what your letter’s for, you can start brainstorming ideas. What comes to mind about the candidate? What skills or accomplishments could you highlight? In what ways has she fulfilled or even gone beyond her job responsibilities?
Some qualities you could consider include flexibility, initiative, leadership, growth, collaboration, interpersonal skills, and/or ability to perform within a certain environment or culture. You can also think about specific professional skills, like writing, social media, programming, classroom management, technology, underwater basket weaving - whatever’s relevant to both the current job and the new one.
Once you’ve brainstormed ideas, pick out the top two to three to highlight. As you’ll read below, your letter should contain two to three body paragraphs, each with a specific focus and supporting example. Before writing, you can brainstorm the main points you’ll make in your letter.
Then, you can start to draft using the structure described below.
Don't fear the blank page! The recommendation letter template below will give you all the writing guidance you need to draft your letter.
Step 3: Draft Your Letter with this Template
There’s something uniquely intimidating about a blank page. You’ve arrived at the moment of truth - actually writing your letter - but you’re not sure where to start.
Luckily, recommendation letters, as varied as they can be, tend to follow a tried-and-true format. Your page doesn’t need to remain blank for long. First, you should add the contact information of the person who will be reading your letter.
Write Out the Hiring Manager’s Contact Information
To start your letter, you should add the hiring manager’s contact information lined up with the left margin at the top. This includes his/her name, position, company or organization, and company or organization’s address.
For example, here’s the contact information from our first sample recommendation letter written by a direct manager for a full-time employee.
Ms. Greta Johanssen
66 Western Boulevard
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87500
Ideally, you can address your letter to a specific person. Often, a candidate only needs to submit recommendation letters once she’s gone through the first phrase of the application process. She should provide you with this information so you can make your letter more personal.
Rather than starting with a generic, "Dear Hiring Manager," strive to address your letter to a specific person, like "Dear Ms. Johanssen," "Dear Mr. Smith," or "Dear Dr. Jekyll."
Easy enough, right? And you’re no longer dealing with that unforgiving blank page. Once you’ve added this information, you can start in on your introductory paragraph.
Paragraph 1: The Introduction
Your introductory paragraph might be three to four sentences. You should start with an enthusiastic opener, like
I’m delighted to recommend Joe for the position of Dive Instructor with Rocktopus Dive Company.
It’s my honor to provide this recommendation for Chelsea, with whom I co-taught Latin to kindergarten students for the past three years.
It’s my great pleasure to recommend Alexandra for the position of Chief Engineer with the Rebel Alliance.
There’s no need to explain the reason for your letter with a sentence like, “Joe asked me to write a recommendation letter for his application to the position of Dive Instructor.” The letter speaks for itself. Start out strong with a positive statement of support.
Next, you should explain who you are and why you’re qualified to recommend the candidate. Were you her manager? Coworker? Collaborate on a project? Worked side by side in the same office space every day for three years? Qualify the nature of your relationship to show why your opinion holds weight. Here are a few examples for the second sentence of your introductory paragraph.
I’ve gotten to know Joe well over the past three years both as an employee of my diving school and a close personal friend.
As Chelsea’s co-teacher at Caesar’s After-School Republic, I planned lessons and taught classes with her Monday through Friday.
As Alexandra’s Direct Manager for the past five years, I spoke with her on a daily basis about the best ways to defend ourselves against the Galactic Empire.
You may also give a brief description of the candidate, perhaps starting with a preview of the skills or qualities you plan to highlight in your letter. The following are a few examples of the kind of introductory evaluative statements you could make in the beginning of your letter:
Joe is a skilled diver, a charismatic teacher, and the kind of level-headed person you’d want to have around in an emergency.
Chelsea is a warm, creative, and dynamic language teacher. Please allow me to give three examples of her instructional skills.
Alexandra is an outstanding mechanical engineer with a strong grasp of technology and an effective style of communication.
Once you’ve introduced yourself and the candidate, you can start in on the body paragraphs of your reference letter.
The body paragraphs are like the fillings in a sandwich. How can you make them as tasty and substantial as possible?
Paragraphs 1, 2, and (maybe) 3: Your Main Points
Once you’ve written your introduction, you’ve arrived at the meat of your letter (or, if you’re a vegetarian, at the grilled eggplant layer of your letter). Most letters contain two to three body paragraphs of four to six sentences each.
You might choose to write two in-depth paragraphs or three that are a little shorter. Each paragraph can focus on a skill or accomplishment and should contain a specific example. By specific example, I mean you should focus on a particular point in time when the candidate did something significant or memorable. Here are a few examples.
Joe’s an expert diving teacher who supports his students holistically through the learning process. In addition to giving clear instruction, Joe helps new divers manage their anxieties. A few weeks ago, one of his students felt panicky during her first open water dive. Joe showed patience and understanding, and ultimately, the student completed the dive. After the group came back in, she raved about Joe and the way he helped her conquer her fear. With his compassionate approach, Joe has empowered dozens of students to overcome their nerves and achieve their diving goals.
Chelsea’s creativity and passion for the Latin language shine through in her approach to teaching. She brings the language to life with skits, costumes, posters, and visuals across every wall and tabletop. Last week, the students performed a skit for their parents about Pandora’s Box. Pandora, Prometheus, and Vulcan all made appearances in the excited cast. Chelsea’s classroom is a colorful ode to the ancient world where interactive activities and visual cues reinforce students’ language learning at every turn.
Beyond improving our existing equipment, Alexandra also develops and tests new theoretical designs. Most recently, she developed a prototype for a starship engine that could run for 1.5 times longer than our current model before needing additional charge. This exciting project is just one example of Alexandra’s innovative and forward-thinking ideas. Between her creativity and engineering expertise, she has the potential to transform our fleet and shape the future of Alliance technology.
Coming up with specific anecdotes can be tricky. If you're having trouble coming up with some, you might first consider the qualities you want to highlight. Some possible descriptors and phrases that could jog your thinking include,
- Creative problem solver
- Clear communication
- Interpersonal skills
- Leadership qualities
- Dependable and trustworthy
- Take-charge personality
Once you’ve chosen your points, think of a time that the candidate showed these qualities. What makes you think the employee has great interpersonal skills? Why does the word "initiative" come to mind? Why do you consider her to be an exceptional problem solver?
Strive to incorporate a brief but illustrative example in each body paragraph. If your letter starts to resemble a list of vague adjectives, then it won’t paint a vivid picture in the eye of the reader.
Another point to consider when drafting your body paragraphs is the order in which you present your points. Remember that first step of learning about the prospective position and its requirements? This information comes in handy now, because you should order your paragraphs by putting the most relevant points at the beginning.
Once you’ve drafted your body paragraphs, it’s smooth sailing to the end of your letter. You just need to add a conclusion and a signature, and you’ll be done with your first draft!
Made it to the conclusion of your rec letter? Congratulations! It's smooth sailing from here on out.
Conclusion and Signature
The concluding paragraph, like the introduction, is pretty straightforward. You can think of the last paragraph of your letter as an opportunity to restate your support for the candidate. To give a couple of examples, your conclusion could start something like this:
Joe has proven himself to be an outstanding dive instructor, and he has my highest recommendation.
Chelsea has my wholehearted recommendation for the position of Head Latin Teacher with your school.
In closing, I’d like to reiterate my unequivocal support for Alexandra and her application to the position of Head Engineer.
You might also add a sentence or two summarizing the content of your recommendation or adding a few more positive descriptors. Here are a few examples.
Whether he’s training a new group in the classroom or calming a nervous student on her first open ocean dive, Joe has proven himself time and again to be an extremely capable instructor.
Chelsea’s made a lasting impression with our students and is more than ready to take on the position of Head Instructor.
Alexandra is a hard-working and talented engineer committed to our mission to restore the Republic.
Finally, you should invite the reader to contact you with any questions or for any further information. You could also thank the reader for her time. Here are a couple ways to express this thought:
Please don't hesitate to contact me for any further information. Thank you for your time.
Please feel free to get in touch with any questions. Thanks very much.
Then add a "Sincerely" (this is technically called the valediction) and your signature. You might print your name, position, phone number, and email beneath your signature. If this contact information’s already present in the header of your official letterhead, then you could also choose not to repeat it at the bottom.
For instance, the end of your letter might look something like this:
Now that you’ve got a sense of the content of your recommendation letter, let’s go over a few pointers about format.
A Few Tips on Formatting Your Letter
Recommendation letters are typically one full page. Any shorter could look like you rushed or didn’t have many positive statements to make about the candidate. Much longer and your reader could lose interest. You want to create a full impression while still being concise.
Most recommendation letters are lined up against the left margin. You might indent each paragraph, but it’s more common not to indent. As discussed above, introductory and concluding paragraphs are usually two to three sentences. Body paragraphs might be a little longer at four to six. You might choose to use bullet points with the body paragraphs if it clarifies your thinking, but this format is less common.
The paragraphs themselves should be single-spaced with a double space in between each one. You could also put two full spaces between the hiring manager’s contact information at the top and the beginning of your letter, as well as extra space beneath your valediction of, “Sincerely” to make space for your signature.
While the wording may vary, your final letter should look something like the final template below.
Below you'll find the basic scaffolding for your recommendation letter. You can use this template to construct your polished final product.
Drafting Your Recommendation Letter: Final Template
While you'll have to fill in the details, the following offers a basic employee recommendation letter template to guide your writing.
Your Official Letterhead
Hiring Manager's Name
City, State, Zip Code
Dear [Hiring Manager's Name],
It's my great pleasure to recommend [name] for the position of [job title] with [company or organization]. I've worked with [name] as his/her [manager, coworker, etc.] for the past [number of years]. [Name of candidate] is [two to three descriptors], and I have no doubt that he/she would make an outstanding addition to your company/organization. Please allow me to give three examples of her qualifications.
Body Paragraphs 1 - 3: [Name] stands out for his/her [quality]. Last week, for example, he/she [specific example]. He/she consistently [description of skills, accomplishments]. [Name] is uniquely qualified for the position of [new job], especially when it comes to [specific responsibilities of the new position].*
*Present 2-3 main characteristics of the candidate in the body paragraphs, each with a specific example if possible. Put them in order of importance and relevance to the prospective position. Use strongly positive language, but try not to sound over the top.
In closing, I'd like to restate my wholehearted support for [name's] application to the position of [job title]. He/she is [most important qualities]. I have no doubt that she will continue to have great success with your company/organization. Please don't hesitate to contact me for any further information. Thank you for your time.
While this structure works for most letters, there's also a lot of space for you to customize your letter to the individual, especially in the body paragraphs. In the end, your letter should be your own unique piece of writing. Once you’ve finished drafting, take some time to read over your letter and make any necessary revisions.
Step 4: Edit for Clarity
Your final letter should be clear, concise, and error-free. To cut down on unnecessary bulk, consider whether you can shave off unecessary adjectives or adverbs. Watch out for wordiness, and try to tighten up your language overall. If you can express the same idea in fewer words, do so. Below is one example of editing for clarity.
Too flowery: Chelsea is an energetic, exciting, and enthusiastic teacher who's truly dedicated to the well-being of her students and to the maintenance of an open, comfortable classroom environment conducive to learning and exploration.
Better: Chelsea is an energetic teacher dedicated to her students' well-being. She creates a classroom environment where students feel safe to explore.
Beyond making your letter lean and precise, make sure it doesn’t have any errors of grammar and spelling. Through editing, you can make your letter a powerful endorsement and help the candidate get hired for the new job!
As you edit, cut down on flowery language so your reader can get to the root of what you're saying.
Final Thoughts About Writing a Letter of Recommendation
In the end, your mission is to produce a stand-out letter of recommendation that will leave an impression with its reader. You’re aiming to endorse the candidate and prove that she would be successful in her next role. Your letter can complement the candidate’s story and give specific examples of her accomplishments.
While recommendation letters should be unique to each candidate, they share a certain structure. Ensure that you use a proper format, address your letter to a specific person, and introduce who you are and how you know the candidate in your introduction.
Choose a few points to make in your two to three body paragraphs, each of them supported with an anecdote from a particular point in time. Present the most relevant points first, so your reader can see right away why the candidate is qualified. Finally, conclude with a restatement of your support and an invitation for the hiring manager to contact you for any further information.
Above all, choose your words with care so that you succeed in painting a strongly positive, while still realistic picture of the candidate. Your letter could go a long way in helping her get hired and ultimately, changing her day-to-day life!
Now that you have a recommendation template to work with, learn more about recommendation letters with our nine free samples! Check out this full guide with recommendation letter samples from managers, supervisors, and a colleague.
Are you interested in recommendation letters for college? Check out this guide with four samples of teacher recommendation letters for high school students. You can also find three more written by school counselors.
Interested in how a student recommendation letter is different from a job rec letter? This recommendation letter template will help you write a reference for a student.
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Rebecca graduated with her Master's in Adolescent Counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has years of teaching and college counseling experience and is passionate about helping students achieve their goals and improve their well-being. She graduated magna cum laude from Tufts University and scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT.