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?

  • Recommendation letter examples

  • Types of recommendation letters

  • Recommendation letter format

  • Tips for writing a letter of recommendation

  • Mistakes to avoid

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 

  • Employment

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:

  • Greeting

  • Introduction

  • Overview

  • Closing statement and signature

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. 


The overview comprises the bulk of your letter of reference; it is the middle two or three body paragraphs. This may be the most difficult section to write because it is here that you explain why you believe the candidate is worthy. To help guide you, try answering the following questions:

  • What words best describe the candidate's work style?

  • What qualities help them excel and make them right for the new role?

  • What project or achievement stands out from their tenure?

  • What story or personal anecdote can you tell that will illustrate the best of the candidate?

Peg each piece of the information you share with a skill or attribute necessary for the new role. Make sure you connect the dots and explain exactly how each quality builds a case for the candidate.

Here is a recommendation letter example for the overview:

“I remember when Sarah began working in my department. She was eager to learn and, in fact, quickly developed an understanding of business modeling and our proprietary accounting system. Sarah is not afraid to ask clarifying questions and is always ready to lend a hand to get the job done. 

“In the course of our four years of working together, Sarah has taken every opportunity to stretch and grow as a financial analyst. In fact, I believe she is ready to move into the role of financial analyst.

“Just last week, I entrusted Sarah with completing and presenting our five-year business forecast at the company's quarterly meeting. I offered her this opportunity because I knew not only that she would do a fabulous job, but also that she was outgrowing her role as my subordinate. She did not disappoint. Her presentation was flawless and her analysis spot-on.”

Closing statement

You've written a recommendation letter that makes a great case for the candidate. Now you need a few sentences that remind the reader that you believe they are ready for their next move and you believe they have chosen wisely.

Here is a letter of recommendation example for a closing statement:

“After having managed Sarah for four years, I can attest to her dedication, determination and knowledge of business processes and strategies. Holdfield Century Inc. would be lucky to have Sarah in the position of finance manager.”


Finally, sign off with Sincerely or Regards, your full name, your title, and the company for which you work.


Anna Chavez

Financial analyst manager

Rosana Industries”

Tips for writing a good letter of recommendation

When writing a letter of recommendation, there are some hints to keep in mind that will make the process easier and more fruitful for the candidate. After all, you wouldn't have agreed to write the rec letter unless you believed in the candidate and wanted to help them.

Here are some tips for writing a great letter of recommendation.

Make sure you don't waste a word. You have only a few paragraphs to convince a hiring manager or admissions officer that the person you have chosen to endorse is an excellent candidate. Unless it's relevant, don't take space mentioning that they love soccer or knitted you a beautiful sweater for your birthday.

If you link each sentence to a quality necessary for the position, you won't have any trouble with this.

Use descriptive words to make a strong case. If possible, ask the candidate for the job listing or requirements for the academic program. Incorporate necessary attributes into your sentences. If creativity falls high on the list of requirements and you can honestly say it's true, write a phrase such as “creative thinker” or “able to develop creative solutions to thorny business problems.”

Get specific. The best letters of recommendation offer pointed examples, not platitudes. They offer data, details, and reasons for your high praise. “Kenton is a great employee” pales in comparison to “Kenton has never missed a deadline and often turns in his high-quality work early.” If you're in a data-driven industry, cement the case with relevant figures.

Check the facts with the letter's subject. It's not your career you're writing about. Do a little research to make sure you don't miss a key fact or accomplishment. Don't be shy about double-checking the details or even asking the candidate to refresh your memory.

Now that you know what you should do, here are a few things you should not

Mistakes to avoid

Don't say yes to writing the letter if you can't make an honest recommendation. A tepid letter of recommendation may be worse than none at all. Perhaps your underling has learned from the mistakes she made during her tenure as your employee and just needs a fresh start. That doesn't mean you have to write a recommendation letter. It's OK to say no.

Damning with faint praise. This is definitely a case where a less than ringing endorsement will have the recipient reading between the lines. That old saw, “if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all” applies here. Certainly do not write an anti-recommendation letter. Instead, let the candidate's resume, cover letter, and interview stand on their own.

The flipside: Hyperbole. While you don't want to get negative, you also don't want to go over the top with your language. The statement, “Kayla's art is among the best in the world” may have the reader thinking, “Really? Compared to Frida Kahlo, Picasso, and Rembrandt?” Keep it real. “Kayla's graphic designs have helped our customers increase traffic to their websites by 20%” is much more realistic and offers a better idea of what Kayla can do.

Summing up

  • To be asked to write a letter of reference is an honor. It says that the person trusts you and believes you know their best qualities.

  • Follow the structure above, using a professional tone. Make it clear that you highly recommend the candidate for that position.

  • Choose a personal, but professionally related, anecdote to illustrate the candidate's outstanding qualifications for the job or academic program.

  • It is better to say no than to write a letter of recommendation that doesn't praise the candidate.

  • Make sure you have all the details right by doing some research and double-checking your facts

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