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How to Write a Recommendation Letter

Write a good recommendation letter and be a hero. Write a bad letter and feel dumb.

  1. Explain how you know the applicant.
    How long have you known the person and in what relationship or circumstance?
  2. State your qualifications for writing the recommendation letter.
    Why should the reader be interested in your recommendation? How many other people of the applicant's caliber have you known, and why does the applicant stand out?
  3. List the applicant's exceptional qualities and skills
    Especially list those that are specific to the applicant's field of interest or job requirements. For example, competency in his/her field or prior experience, organizational and communication skills, academic or other achievements, interaction with others, sound judgment, reliability, analytical ability, etc.
  4. Emphasize key points that you want the reader to note on the applicant's resume or job application.
    Be sure to meaningfully elaborate, don't simply restate.
  5. Give your judgment of the applicant, his/her qualifications and potential.
    Why should he/she be considered over other people? How does he/she compare to other people you have known? Do not state weaknesses. If you can't write a positive letter of recommendation, you should respectfully decline to write a letter of recommendation.
  6. Give specific examples to back up what you have said about the person's qualifications and character.
    Remember, generalized praise is a waste of space.
  7. Avoid gender and race remarks
    Unless it is absolutely relevant, do not state (directly or by implication) the applicant's race, religion, national origin, age, disability, gender or marital status.
  8. Don't be too brief.
    One or two short paragraphs are death to a recommendation letter. On the other hand, be precise. Make every word count. Here is a rule of thumb: a letter of recommendation for employment should be one page; a letter of recommendation for school should be 1-2 pages.
  9. Make the ending statement strong without overdoing it.
    Undue praise can be viewed as biased or insincere.
  10. List your contact information if you are willing to field follow-up correspondence.
  11. Proofread!
    The letter of recommendation represents both you and the applicant.

What if you are asked to write a recommendation letter? Ask yourself:

  • Are you the right person to write a letter of recommendation?
    If you are asked to write a recommendation letter, you need to discuss the subject candidly with the requester. A letter of recommendation is most effective when a person writes it who knows the requester and his/her reputation.
  • What is your company's policy regarding letters of recommendation.
    Many policies have been established as protection against potential lawsuits. The common rule is write only positive, factual recommendation letters.
  • Do you qualify?
    Another consideration is your integrity—can you honestly write positive things about the requester? If not, you need to bow out gracefully without hurting feelings. On the other hand, if you qualify, you should brainstorm with the requester to write what he or she wishes to be said. Be sensitive to deadlines.

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