Anyone who’s applied for a job knows how important recommendation letters can be to getting hired. While you've probably asked for a reference letter in the past, you may be less familiar with writing one. If someone asks you for a reference, how can you produce a great letter that will help your employee, colleague, or friend get hired?
To help you through the writing process, we’re providing nine samples of effective letters of recommendation (scroll down to skip to the samples!). By reading through these examples, you’ll gain a clear understanding of how to structure your own letters.
Before getting to the free recommendation letter samples, let’s briefly review the role that reference letters play in the hiring process. Why are they important, and what makes some stand out over others?
Why Are Recommendation Letters Important?
Many employers request recommendation letters to help them decide who to hire or internally promote. Throughout the hiring process, the applicant strives to present herself in the best light. Beyond the interview and resume, hiring managers look to recommendation letters to confirm the candidate’s qualifications and to gain insight from an outside party.
The hiring manager wants to know what experiences the candidate will bring to the new role, how she’ll contribute to the company or organization, and how she’ll behave in the day-to-day. Recommendation letters can point to a candidate’s future performance by talking about her past achievements.
Reference letters can also shed light on what it’s like to manage, work with, or, in the case of a character reference, be friends with the person under consideration. They complement the candidate’s story and suggest what she’ll bring to the table in her next job.
If you get asked to write a letter for someone, it’s safe to assume you want to do a good job. Helping someone get hired is not just a satisfying good deed, but it’s also good professional karma! So how can you turn those good intentions into a stand-out employee letter of recommendation?
Each letter will, of course, be different, but good letters share certain key features. Read on to learn about three important characteristics of strong reference letters.
Your recommendation letter's not the time to be cagey about your identity! The hiring manager wants to know who you are and why you're qualified to recommend the applicant.
What Makes a Recommendation Letter Stand Out? 3 Key Features
Strong letters give positive descriptions of a candidate’s skills in a concise and powerful way. Beyond using language that's clear and error-free, what elements should your recommendation letter include to be effective?
As you write your letter, make sure it does the following:
1. It Explains Why You’re Qualified to Recommend the Candidate
In order to hold weight, a recommendation letter should come from a reputable source. If an employer wants a professional reference, then the writer of that letter probably worked with the candidate in a supervisory capacity. Some employers will also be interested in letters from a colleague or, occasionally, a friend, neighbor, or family member. Most letters, though, will be written by a supervisor, manager, or boss of some sort.
In the first paragraph, you should explain who you are and how you know the candidate. How long did you work with her and in what capacity? By explaining your relationship, you show that you’re qualified to give an honest assessment.
If someone who feels like a relative stranger asks you to write a letter, you might consider declining or recommending someone else to write it. If you didn’t get to know the candidate’s work performance or only did so in a way completely unrelated to the new position, then you might not be able to provide a helpful letter of recommendation from employer to employee.
The best letters are written by people who can speak to the candidate’s skills and accomplishments. Make sure to state clearly in the beginning of your letter who you are and why your opinion matters.
2. It’s Customized to the New Position
While you should speak to the candidate’s accomplishments in her past role, you should also show why she’d make a good fit in the next one. Even if the candidate’s making a career change, you can explain why she’ll be able to do well in the new industry.
Here’s where open communication with the applicant is important. She should share the job description so you have a clear understanding of the position’s requirements. As the writer, you’re not expected to do much research on the new job. The candidate should provide you with everything you need to know to customize your letter.
By drawing on this information, you can express confidence that the candidate will succeed in the new role. Then when the hiring manager reads your letter, she’ll feel reassured that the candidate would make a good fit.
3. It Uses Specific Examples and Anecdotes
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, your letter should provide specific examples about the candidate. Don’t just list adjectives like, “friendly, intelligent, and hard-working”; instead, present circumstances in which the candidate demonstrated those qualities. To borrow a favorite phrase of English teachers, “show, don’t just tell.”
Not only will examples point to the value the candidate brought to your organization or company, but they’ll also paint a picture of how she works in day-to-day operations. Using two to three specific anecdotes in your letter will boost its level of persuasiveness. It will also sidestep a common rec letter trap: becoming a generic list of cliches.
Just as you should only write a recommendation letter if you feel qualified to assess the candidate, you should also only write it if you can provide a great one. While you don’t want to go over the top and sound insincere, your letter should be a strongly positive endorsement.
As you read through the various free job recommendation letters, notice how they all share the three key features described above, even though they differ in terms of their source and target audience. Read on for nine representative samples of recommendation letters, each followed by an analysis of what it does well!
- Sample Recommendation Letter 1: Written by a Direct Manager for a Full-Time Employee
- Sample Recommendation Letter 2: Written by a Principal for a Teacher
- Sample Recommendation Letter 3: Written by a Direct Manager for a Part-Time Employee
- Sample Recommendation Letter 4: Written by a Manager for a Remote Worker
- Sample Recommendation Letter 5: Written by a Supervisor for an Internal Promotion
- Sample Recommendation Letter 6: Written by a Supervisor for a Student Intern
- Sample Recommendation Letter 7: Written by a Coworker
- Sample Recommendation Letter 8: Written by a Professor for a Former Student
- Sample Recommendation Letter 9: Written by a Friend as a Character Reference
After checking out the above samples of recommendation letters, read on for some final thoughts on how to write an excellent letter of recommendation for an employee, coworker, or friend.
Now that you've got all the building blocks, you can put them together into a powerful letter of recommendation!
Writing Strong Letters of Recommendation: Final Thoughts
While the above samples of recommendation letters will help guide you through the letter writing process, they can’t look exactly like your final product. Writing a letter is a significant undertaking, as it requires you to customize your words to the candidate and make your letter unique. Even though the specifics will vary, strong letters of recommendation do have certain features in common. Each letter should...
Use an Official Format
The sample letters show the proper format for a recommendation letter. They have the employer’s name, position, company, and company’s address at the top. To give one example, here's the header for recommendation letter sample #1:
Ms. Greta Johanssen
66 Western Boulevard
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87500
You should also use official letterhead that has your name and contact information across the top, in whatever way you've chosen to present it. Each letter is addressed to a specific person, a greeting that’s more personal than, “Dear Hiring Manager.” Typically, paragraphs are single-spaced with a double space in between each one.
Finally, every letter concludes with an invitation to contact the writer for any further information. Then the writer may include her position, company, phone number, and email below her name.
Start with a Strong Opener
The strongest letters start out with an immediate statement of support. They might say, “It’s my honor,” “It’s my pleasure,” or “I’m very pleased to provide this letter of recommendation for Joe.” Stating the obvious with a sentence like, “I’m writing to recommend Joe,” looks weak beside a more enthusiastic opener.
In the first paragraph, explain who you are and why you’re qualified to recommend the candidate. Write a line or two of praise about her professional and personal strengths, perhaps with a summary of the main points you’ll present in the rest of the letter.
Contain Two to Three Specific Examples
As mentioned above, strong letters typically include two to three body paragraphs with specific anecdotes about the candidate. They don’t just describe the applicant’s great qualities and accomplishments; they give examples and prove to her prospective employer that she’s made achievements in the past that predict future success.
You might talk about a project or responsibility of the applicant or the value she’s brought to your company. Consider relevant qualities like flexibility, initiative, leadership, growth, collaboration, interpersonal skills, and/or ability to perform within a certain environment or culture.
To Sum Up...
Depending on your relationship with the candidate, you might focus more on her work performance or personal character in your recommendation letter. An employer will focus more heavily on professional skills while a coworker may add personal qualities.
A friend or neighbor providing a character reference would produce the most personal letter. It falls upon the candidate to choose her recommenders wisely and to share any relevant information about the prospective position to help them write the best letter they can.
As long as you incorporate the key features discussed above and take the time to make your letter positive and specific, you’ll provide a strong recommendation letter that will help your employee, colleague, or friend get hired. And who knows - perhaps in a year or two, she’ll be writing a recommendation letter for you!
Are you tasked with writing a recommendation letter for a student applying to college? If so, check out these samples of recommendation letters from teachers and counselors, along with additional writing tips and a thorough recommendation letter template!
- 4 Amazing Samples of Recommendation Letters from Teachers
- Should You Move to a State with No Income Taxes
- 3 Examples of Excellent Recommendation Letters from Counselors
- Complete Guide: Writing a Strong Letter of Recommendation
- Unsecured Credit Cards for Those with Bad Credit
- A Great College Recommendation Letter Template
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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.