Write Recommendation Letters for Success

by Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor

Recommendation letters, also known as reference letters or referral letters, are used to give information about you to a prospective boss, recommend you to an undergraduate or graduate program, nominate you for an award, position, or promotion, and so forth. A letter of recommendation is an easy, effective way by which your abilities and positive personal traits can be shared with others and from which decision-makers can evaluate your potential.

When Requesting Recommendation Letters

The benefits of requesting recommendation letters are numerous. For one thing, a letter of recommendation generally highlights your positive characteristics. It may include such things as your accomplishments while at school or in the workplace, and your strengths and capabilities as a student, employee, or co-worker. It may even include details about your personality and your relevant interests. Moreover, a letter of recommendation eliminates the need for the potential employer, academic evaluator, or judge to secure your references (a task that can at times be tedious and time-consuming). You do not want to be taken out of the running merely because someone was not able to verify your qualifications for the position.

Perhaps the best thing about sending a letter of recommendation is that writing it can often be more appealing to people than simply being included in a list of references because then they do not have to be put on the spot with an unexpected phone call from your prospective employer. When writing a letter, the recommender has time to carefully consider what he or she wishes to say about you and the best way to say it—and that may mean the difference between whether or not you get the job you want, get accepted to the school that you apply for, or receive the award for which you were nominated.

8 Recommendation Letters Tips to Remember

  1. When requesting a recommendation letter, ask (preferably in person) someone who knows you fairly well and who you know will complete the task in time to meet your deadline.
  2. Though it may seem obvious, ask someone who you are certain will give you a positive recommendation. If you are not sure how strong of a recommendation you might receive, just ask the person outright if she or he would feel comfortable writing a letter of recommendation for you. Be serious in your inquiry, and most people will give you an honest answer. Note: This is no time to try and be a mind reader—your future may be on the line!
  3. Be courteous and give the potential writer adequate time to write a well-written, thoughtful letter and let him or her know your time constraints.
  4. When requesting a recommendation letter, it is helpful to provide the writer with a copy of your current resume and cover letter. Your resume should list your accomplishments and your other relevant experience that make you an ideal candidate for the position, a description of the job or program you are interested in, and/or a current transcript or list of relevant courses you have taken in your high school, undergraduate, or graduate career. Remember, even if the person knows you fairly well, he or she will probably not be aware of all of your qualifications for the job or position. It may also be worthwhile to request an interview with the person so that you can talk about your experience and your reasons for wanting the position. You can also explain your goals, intended career path, course of study, and any other relevant information.
  5. Though it is generally best to request letters of recommendation from someone in a professional setting, if you are applying for school or just entering the workforce and have little experience and few contacts, you can ask for character references from people who know you from school, church, or community organizations.
  6. If the recommendation letter needs to be written using a certain format or be a certain length, include this information when making your request.
  7. Always thank the recommender for being willing to write a letter for you. After the letter is sent, you might consider writing a short note expressing your thanks for the writer's willingness to help you achieve your scholastic or career goals.
  8. In addition to requesting letters of recommendation as you near graduation, reference letters can be very important when changing careers or after you resign, have been laid off, or let go.

Note: If you resign or have been laid off, but left the company on good terms, a referral letter from a previous boss can show prospective employers that your position was not terminated because of any lack of performance on your part. Such a letter can explain the circumstances of your leaving and can illustrate the positive qualities you had as an employee.

When Writing Recommendation Letters

As mentioned above, writing recommendation letters can have several benefits, not only for the recipient (of course), but for the writer as well. Writing recommendation letters allows you to be able to reflect on what you would like to say about a person, and it often takes the place of a hurried (and sometimes awkward) phone call where you try to remember the qualifications and merits of the person a caller has asked you about. With a letter of reference you can include details about how you know the person (whether on a personal or professional level), his or her accomplishments or positive characteristics, and his or her career or educational goals or other relevant interests. Whether you know the individual personally or professionally, you can offer your opinion about whether or not she or he is qualified for the position being sought.

2 tips to remember:

Before you start:

Writing the letter:

Typical Format for This Type of Letter

Although recommendation letters are written to a wide variety of people for a variety of reasons, most follow a standard format. When writing your referral letter, keep the following points in mind:





Recommendation letters can be the pivotal factor in getting the job or promotion that you want, being accepted to the school you hope to attend and/or program you wish to study, or even receiving the award you deserve. If you are the writer of a letter of recommendation, you can help someone else to move forward in their professional career. These letters can be very persuasive because they outline a person's capabilities, accomplishments, goals, and potential. For this reason, letters of referral are an essential part of any application process.

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