How to write a good letter of recommendation

Writing a letter of recommendation is an honor, but also a big responsibility. Take the guesswork out of creating something that can make or break a colleague or student's candidacy.As a trusted colleague, boss, or friend, you may be asked to write a letter of recommendation. That says a lot about the esteem in which others hold you and you should take it as an honor. Because you want to do a good job to ensure the person you are writing about has the best shot at the position they want, you need to understand how to write a letter of recommendation.

But what exactly is a letter of recommendation and how should you go about writing one? There's no mystery. Once you understand what goes into a great recommendation letter and how you can compile one, you'll be equipped to help that star student or employee make their next life move.

In this blog we will detail the steps to take and the following:

What is a letter of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation is a formal introduction and reference for a person seeking a new job or academic role. Letters of recommendation are typically written by a former employer, professor, client, or colleague whose attestation to your skills and qualities will impress the reader.

If you are asked to write a letter of recommendation, you can be sure that the requester believes you will have good things to say about their professional qualities and why you believe they are an excellent candidate for this new role.

A great recommendation letter, like a great resume or cover letter, entices the reader to want to learn more about the candidate and to offer them an interview to discuss the opportunity further.

Types of recommendation letters

Not everyone who requests a recommendation letter is asking because they have entered the job market. An employee may be returning to school to get an advanced degree, or applying for a certification program or fellowship.

Each different purpose requires a slightly different letter-writing approach. There are two main types of letters of recommendation you as a supervisor, client, manager, teacher or other superior may be asked to write:

Academic letter of recommendation

Colleges, universities, and other post-graduate programs often seek letters of recommendation as part of the application process. These letters may also play a role in whether a candidate receives a scholarship or other financial assistance.

Academic letters of recommendation should focus on who the applicant is as a person and what insight and dedication they will bring to the academic department or program. Your job as an academic letter of recommendation writer is to offer an unbiased perspective on the applicant's personality, but also on their ability to grasp new concepts and any other skills and attributes that will make them an excellent student.

Employment letter of recommendation

Typically written by supervisors, managers, or clients, employment recommendation letters are focused on the attributes that will make the letter's subject an excellent employee. If you are asked by a person you supervise to write a letter of recommendation and it is not against company policy, make sure you honestly believe the person is a quality candidate. Your name will be on the letter, too.Teachers, academic advisors, and university professors may also be asked to write employment recommendations, especially if their students are searching for their first job or first job in a new field.

Exercise caution

Be aware that many employers will not allow you to write a recommendation letter for a colleague. They will, instead, suggest that you refer the person to the Human Resources Department, which will merely confirm a person's tenure with the company.

Recommendation letter format

Before you begin to write, it will help to understand what goes into a reference letter. Any letter of recommendation should follow a standard format. Here are the components you need to include:

You may also consider including a personal anecdote if you feel comfortable doing so and it illustrates a positive quality about the letter's subject.

You may be asking yourself, “How do I write a letter of recommendation?” Take it one section at a time. Below, we offer detailed information on what each section should contain and recommendation letter example text for each.


Since this is a formal letter, your greeting should also be formal, unless the person for whom you are writing the letter asks you to keep it casual. You can't go wrong with Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. [Last name] since you are relying on the information given to you by the letter's subject. 

If you do not know who the recipient of the letter is, kindly suggest that a letter with a personalized greeting goes a lot farther than one with a generic greeting. Above all, avoid the stilted “To Whom It May Concern” if at all possible.


The beginning of a recommendation letter serves an important purpose: It tells the reader who you are writing about and why. Although it may seem less than creative, one of the best ways to start is simply by adapting the following letter of recommendation examples intro: 

“I am pleased to recommend Sarah Peterman for the financial analyst manager position at Holdfield Century Inc. I have supervised Sarah for four years at Rosano Industries and feel she would be outstanding in this role.”

This format works for a candidate applying for a university program by simply changing the job and prospective employer's name to the academic program and university's name. 

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