Ah, the dreaded recommendation letter. Whenever you are asked to write one for your employee, co-worker, student, or anyone else you may know well, you might end up wondering: what’s even the point of it all? Does anyone actually read them? Isn’t it much easier if prospective employers could just let the resume do the talking?
First off: Yes, we can assure you that recommendation letters are prioritized in job applications. Secondly, some hiring managers believe that they’re the most integral part of the overall job application. This makes it all too important to create a recommendation letter that makes a positive impact on your candidate.
Ready to dive in? To make sure your recommendation letter is in good shape (and crafted as painlessly as possible), we’ve identified the 8 best practices for writing a recommendation letter in one place. Keep reading to start writing the best recommendation letter possible.
Things You Should Consider Before Writing For Someone
Before you decide to write a letter of recommendation, make sure to be comfortable with the candidate’s background and take the proper time to write a well researched one. If you feel as if you don’t know enough about the person to demonstrate their qualities or skills, or you’re not sure their skill set and experience deserves a recommendation, then writing a letter for them is probably not in their, or your best interest.
Worse still is when you write a generic letter that could have been written about anyone, or one that is clearly written in haste. This could be harmful to the candidates’ application and is worse than having not written one in the first place.
8 Ingredients of a Good Recommendation Letter
A high-quality recommendation letter is written by someone who is familiar with the candidate and can discuss positively about the ways in which the candidate benefited the organization. The writer should be in a position where their authority and experience will be of relevance to the new organization.
Use a Professional Recommendation Letter Header
Yep, the basics come first. The letter header of almost all recommendation letters for job applications typically include the following information:
- Your name
- Your email address
- Your contact number
- The date
- The hiring manager’s name and their job title
- The name of the address company to which your candidate is applying
Just remember rot keep things professional:
Use an email address that comes from a respected email host – that means it’s either Gmail (or something similar) or your personal domain (the latter is obviously much better)
Your email address should best include your first and last name – [email protected] isn’t going to send a good impression
Make sure your contact details are consistent across the recommendation letter and your social media profiles (the prospective employers may conduct some research on you before hiring your candidate).
Open Your Recommendation Letter with a Proper Greeting
Who is the recommendation letter being addressed to?
In most cases, it is directed to the hiring manager who will read it.
The recommendation letter’s greeting might be the first thing that hiring managers see. This makes it one of the most useful aspects of the recommendation letter. There is one great, fool proof strategy to make your greeting grab their attention:
See what we did? We directly referred to the manager by his name. And that serves an important psychological hook.
If we see or hear our name, we react. That’s enough to captivate us to pay attention. You can still make use of generic openers if you don’t have access to the hiring manager’s name. Trust us when we say this, there is a lot of research backing this claim up.
Once the reader sees their name in the greeting of your recommendation letter, they will pay more attention to the rest of the letter. He will also suspect that whatever comes next will be accurate and trustworthy information he’s been looking for.
Pro tip: Wondering if you should refer the addressees by their first or last name? This totally depends on the corporate culture. If your candidate is applying for a job with a casual company atmosphere, use the first name. For more professional cover letters, it’s just safer to go with the hiring manager’s last name.
What’s the best way to find the name of the hiring manager?
Ask your candidate to do the research for you. A quick search on LinkedIn should help you with the answer.
If you don’t know the name of the hiring manager you can always use the following greetings:
- Dear Hiring Manager
- Dear [insert name of company] team
- To whom it may concern
Pro tip: Don’t start with Dear Sir or Dear Madam, since we’re not living in Victorian-era England.
Are you done with the greeting and header? Now it’s time for meat of the matter. The main paragraphs of the recommendation letter.
How to write them perfectly?
Go for the three-paragraph letter format:
- The first paragraph should capture the hiring manager’s attention
- The second paragraph shows what your candidate has to offer and their relationship with you
- The third paragraph proves how your candidate will fit in the overall company culture
Pick an Appropriate Voice and Tone
The tone of voice you employ depends on the organization. If it’s a formal place of employment, you will have to choose a more professional tone. You will have to research the company to find the right tone, and this will mostly depend on where your candidate is applying. For example, the tone of your recommendation letter for a tech startup will likely differ from a teaching position.
Tell Your Candidate’s Story – From Your Perspective
Telling your candidate’s story is an effective way to show off their skills and gives hiring managers morer insight into your relationship with the candidate.
Before writing a story, try to look at the job description and see if it helps. As we mentioned earlier, it is better to do a little more research about the business online to get a real sense of their company culture. Before drafting your recommendation letter, compare your candidate’s abilities with the requirements for the job.
Let’s say your candidate is applying for a tech startup. The job requires many years of experience with programming, a deep knowledge of Java, and strong leadership skills. Describe how your candidate, as someone who has worked with you in programming, has undertaken several tech projects for your clients and exceeded their goals (with data and numbers, if applicable). And how you also taught and mentored the candidate on how to manage their projects, which improved their success rate.
The recommendation letter should demonstrate your candidates’ top skills and demonstrate how they can collaborate with others and communicate effectively. You’re also proving that your candidate are team players.
Be Truthful With Your Recommendation Letter
Dishonesty on your recommendation letter is a lose-lose situation. Implying or stating that your candidate has a skill that they don’t really have will come back to haunt you both in the long run when they are asked to apply that skill in the interview. First, they’ll probably be treated as a liar for having lied through to the job interview process, and second, your word will no longer hold as much weight as it used to. So be honest with what you write!
It is Unique
“He is a go-getter, natural-born leader, with great multitasking capabilities, making him perfect for your company.”
If you think you’ve read that a million times, think of how much the hiring managers have seen over the years. The same regurgitated openers and one-liners that contain all these buzzwords that have been overused and done to the death. Dig deep and you’ll find that these words mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.
You don’t want your recommendation letter to be thrown in the bin by the hiring manager before lunch. Adding more eloquent words can help your candidate stand apart from the crowd. Instead of describing your candidate as being creative, try imaginative. They’re inventive, not innovative. Instead of using determined, try passionate. These variations in verbiage will go a long way in setting your candidate apart from the crowd.
Your Final Words
Reward the reader for having gone through the recommendation letter all the way. Provide them with a good conclusion.
Keep it Short and Concise
There are always exceptions to this rule, but in general, for recommendation letters don’t go over one page. You may have to constantly go back and forth to carefully select cut own your sentences. In most cases, you probably will dislike cutting off all those words, but in the end, it’s worth doing so because some hiring managers don’t like the prospect of writing something that stretches on for what seems like an eternity.
You may be tempted to treat the final words of your recommendation letter as a throwaway by writing something generic: “I’m sure XYZ will make a great addition to your team.” But your closing statement is your final attempt at emphasizing your candidate’s compatibility with the company and how they would be a great fit for the job.
We don’t have to tell you just how important it is to run your recommendation letter through Grammarly (it is very important!). As a general rule, set your recommendation letter aside for late viewing, and once a few hours have gone by, come back and read through it again from a fresh perspective. You will probably find something off that can be corrected. Or better yet, ask a friend or even the candidate to give it a look.
Use Formal Closing
Once you have finished writing the main text of your recommendation letter, it’s time to write a formal closing. Write “thank you” and your name next to it. It is recommended to add your signature for more impact.
Alternatives to the word “thank you” include:
- Best regards
- Warm regards
- Yours truly
- Respectfully yours
Essential Things to Include in a Recommendation Letter
Let’s go over a few topics that the recommendation letter should cover. These areas include:
- Leadership potential
- Skills and abilities
- Contributions (to your project)
- How long you have known the candidate and in what capacity
- Their academic performance and intellectual abilities
- Their social skills
Things You Should Avoid In a Recommendation Letter
Make sure the recommendation letter avoids the following problems:
It should not speak negatively about the candidate
If you feel that you are not in a good position to provide a positive recommendation to the candidate, then it’s simply better to turn down the request to write the letter.
Do not lie
Your reputation is also at stake here – so do not lie about their skills. If you make recommendations for someone who you think will not perform well in their new position that they are applying for, this could hurt your reputation in the long run.
Don’t exaggerate a candidate’s performance
Making a candidate sound too perfect will sound too obvious and can be easily spotted. Over exaggeration will hurt your letter’s efficacy and can be detrimental to the candidate’s chances of being selected.
Don’t Use the “Fill in the Blanks” Recommendation Template
These templates provide you with a simple outline for a recommendation letter that you can fill in with your details. While these types of recommendation letters are a dime a dozen on the internet, they do more harm than good. Hiring managers and admission staff can easily identify the similarities, and once this happens, the recommendation letter loses its effectiveness. So do your candidate a favor and come up with your own unique template and craft it as uniquely as possible for them.
You should never duplicate a recommendation letter you wrote for your previous candidate. This is definitely true if your candidates apply to the same institute or company. You should support your recommendation letter with examples of the candidate’s particular skills and abilities, focusing on the ones mentioned in the job description. Ensure that everything you write is related to the job.
Finally, your contact details at the end of the recommendation letter and ask the reader to get in touch with you if they have any more queries. Your readiness to discuss the candidate could make their case even stronger.
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