A letter of recommendation is a common type of letter that is requested for a variety of reasons, including entrance to academic programs, applying for a new job, or receiving scholarships. Such letters help in the process of determining which candidates to choose out of a large pool of potential ones, and they should be requested only in cases where the letter writer (recommender) has personal experience interacting with, managing, or teaching the candidate (recommended).
In this post, we will provide sample letters of recommendation based on these various purposes, as well as provide some general tips on how to write a letter of recommendation and what do avoid in doing so.
Formatting and letterhead basics
Before we go over the three parts of a great letter of recommendation and show you a few samples, let's discuss how the letter should be formatted. Below is an example of common and accepted formatting for writing a letter (including a letter of recommendation).
City, ST ZIP Code
City, ST ZIP Code
Dear Admissions Committee/Hiring Manager:
[Body of letter in paragraph format]
Regarding letterhead, it is preferable to print your letter of recommendation on letterhead, if it is available. If you are recommending a former or current student, you should print the letter of recommendation on the university (or department in the university) letterhead. For recommendations of a past or current employee, the company's letterhead should be easily available and used.
Finally, you should always sign your name at the bottom instead of using a font. This allows the hiring committee or admissions committee to see that it was indeed you who wrote the letter, and adds legitimacy to the personal recommendation you've just provided.
The three parts of a great letter of recommendation
Now that you know how to format the letter and the best way to present your recommendation, let's look at the three parts that make up an effective letter of recommendation. We'll go into as much detail as possible here on each, but be sure to look through our provided samples to see how it looks within the letter.
The introduction of your letter of recommendation should include the student's or the employee's name for whom you are writing the letter of recommendation, in addition to your name as the recommender. Within this introduction, it is important to list several qualities that come to mind when considering the recommended person, as well as (briefly) the nature of your interaction with the recommended person. It is also customary to mention in specific language that you do, in fact, recommend him or her for the program or job to which he or she is applying.
Details relating to the performance of the recommended you observed
The best letters of recommendation are those that provide unique details about the quality of work the recommended person has demonstrated. This section should contain several details relating to qualities you've observed in the person you are recommending. If this letter of recommendation is for a job and you have managed the person you are recommending, include specific instances where he or she has shown professional attributes. Some good attributes to focus on could be leadership, professionalism, communication skills, teamwork, and handling adverse situations well. These are qualities that are preferred in most fields and can serve as a general foundation for recommending a present or former employee. They are also important in academic circles, especially in graduate programs, where students will be expected to lead groups and (at times) facilitate class instruction.
If you have seen this particular person go through difficult times academically, personally, or in his or her career, and have seen him or her overcome hardships on either one of these fronts, those observations speak well to the character of the person being recommended. In some cases, these types of observations make strong letters of recommendation because it shows the recommender to be closely involved with the person being recommended, which readers like to see when they read a letter of recommendation. Who is this person and what is he or she capable of—both personally and professionally…those are the questions recommendation letters answer best. However, before you go into details that might be personal to the person being recommended, ask him or her first if he or she minds your sharing your observations about him or her. This simple courtesy is important, especially if you are unsure whether the person being recommended wants his or her personal laundry aired (so to speak).
While these performance-related details constitute the body of your letter of recommendation, it's best to avoid writing too many paragraphs and extending it past one easily readable page. If you are recommending a person who has demonstrated many strong skills and positive qualities in multiple circumstances, try to pick the ones that best highlight his or her abilities and character.
A conclusion stating that you are happy to provide more information
A conclusion should briefly restate your recommendation and reiterate how much you believe this person will add value to the program or company to which he or she is applying. It's important to close out your recommendation letter with the offer of more details if the hiring or admissions committee requests them, and a way they can reach you, either by phone or e-mail. Oftentimes, hiring or admissions committees want to know as many details about a person as possible, and they might have more questions related to that person's performance, goals, strengths, and weaknesses. This is especially true if the recommendation letters received don't offer a lot of detail concerning the person's abilities or personality.
Now that we've covered in detail how to write a great letter of recommendation, let's look at some sample letters to see how these tips look on paper. Keep in mind that these samples should be used only as general guidelines, and should be adapted based on your unique experience and knowledge of the person being recommended.
Sample letter 1 — from teacher/professor
It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for [insert name here]. As a highly intelligent and capable student, she has demonstrated the ability to conduct herself in a professional, courteous manner that I believe will be an asset to your graduate program.
I have worked with [insert name here] in the capacity of both adviser and instructor, and, in both cases, have found her to be pleasant, conscientious, and motivated to excel. Whenever a question arose about her academic work or projects, she was quick to consult with me to determine the best course of action to tackle the issue. During these meetings, she was always considerate of my time and used our advising sessions to ask important questions about both the program and the career path she has chosen to take.
An incident that I feel summarizes her character best was when she was assigned a project as part of a group assignment, and was selected by the group to be their leader. As I watched her interactions with the rest of the group members while working on the assignment, I noticed that she demonstrated a natural ability to lead, and treated each member of the group with the utmost respect and kindness. Throughout the course of this month-long group project, it became obvious that her group members respected her highly and sought her advice when they were confused about an element of the project or final presentation.
I believe that [insert name here] has great potential in her chosen field and I look forward to seeing what she will accomplish, both during and after graduate studies. If you have any questions or would like further information from me regarding my recommendation of [insert name here], please feel free to contact me at [insert phone number or e-mail address].
Your name here
Sample letter 2 — from current or former manager
It is with pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for [insert name here]. Throughout the time I have known him and worked with him, he has been an asset to our company and has shown great potential for success. Although we hate to lose him here at [insert name of company], I know that you will find him to be a professional, intelligent, and hardworking employee, and motivated towards success in all that he does.
My professional interaction with him was as his manager while he worked as a customer service representative. In this role, I observed his communication with our clients via telephone, e-mail, and face-to-face meetings. Each time, he presented himself as warm, caring, and friendly, and never expressed anger or frustration at customers (although I'm sure he often felt it, as we all do!). He resolved customer complaints quickly and effectively, and followed all procedures of escalating complaints when the need arose. Many times, his interactions were positively reviewed by our clients, and I heard from them more times than once to congratulate our department for hiring such a bright, courteous, and professional young man.
He also expressed willingness to help out in other departments when assistance was needed. He quickly learned other functions and facets of our business by asking questions and offering to assist in any way he could, and through these interactions, earned the respect of all other team members in our company. When going through the stressful months surrounding the holiday shopping rush, he made sure that whenever he was not taking care of his own job duties, he was doing what he could to make sure that our day-to-day business ran as smoothly as possible. Whether it was telling a joke to lighten the mood or bringing homemade treats to share with all the team members during a particularly stressful week, he made work easier for all of us.
I hate to lose him as an employee but am convinced that he will do great things in the field he has chosen to pursue. For this reason, I can offer my wholehearted recommendation without any reservations. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me at [insert phone number or e-mail address here].
Your name here
Finally, as with any writing, be sure that the glowing recommendation you've provided in a recommendation letter isn't overshadowed by grammar, spelling, syntax, or punctuation errors. If you are unable to find another person to be a "second set of eyes" for you, hire a professional editor who can ensure that your recommendation letter is error-free and compelling in its presentation and message. If you want your positive recommendation to be well-received and assist the recommended in finding his or her perfect college program or job, presenting an error-free one is the way to do it.