How To Write a Letter of Recommendation (Reference Letter)

When somebody who is applying for a job asks you to write a letter of recommendation, you have a large responsibility. Not only do you have to make the job candidate look good, but you have to make yourself look like you are an authoritative figure whose opinion truly matters.

Fortunately, there is no need to fear. With these five easy steps, you can write a letter of recommendation that will make any prospective employer melt.

1. Follow a formula

When you write a letter of recommendation, you should mentally separate it into three sections. The first section is the opening where youwill explain the purpose of your letter, explain who you are, and describe how you know the job candidate. The second section is the body of the letter where you will describe specific reasons of why the reader should hire the job candidate.

In this section, you should use examples to make your point clear. The final section of your letter is the closing where you will explain how qualified the candidate is for the job and summarize why the candidate would be an asset. As long as you can follow that formula, the hardest part of your job is already done!

2. Use a creative opener

The person who is reading your letter has read thousands of letters and wants to see something original. Stay away from the temptation to start your letter with a phrase like, “This letter is in regards to ______.” Instead, put a bit of personality into your opening statement and say something to the effect of “It is an honor and a privilege for me to write on behalf of _____. By expressing your enthusiasm at the beginning, your reader will stay focused until the end.

3. Make yourself sound good

Prospective employers want to know who you are and why you are qualified to write such an important letter. So even though your letter should mainly describe the candidate, it should also describe you. Make sure to explain who you are, what you do, and what makes your opinion valuable. As long as you present yourself as an authoritative expert in your field, the prospective employer will feel more inclined to believe your words.

4. Do not write a letter of recommendation just because you were asked

You should only write a letter of recommendation for someone that you truly like. If you are approached by somebody that you do not want to recommend, simply apologize and say that you cannot write the letter. You can blame your reason on time, lack of experience, or anything else that you want. The most important thing is for you to be honest about the fact that you are not the best person to write the letter. Otherwise you could put both of your good names on the line.

5. Act as an employer, but think like a candidate

Three main people will see your letter: you, the candidate, and the prospective employer. When you write the letter, think of what the candidate would want you to say. Mentally picture the candidate blushing over your kind words. At the same time, make sure that your words are not pure mush because they must appeal to the employer, as well. Maintain a steady mix of candidate and employer friendly topics so that your letter will feel well balanced.

And that’s all there is to it. As long as you can follow those five simple tips, your letter of recommendation will look like a literary masterpiece!

Further Reading and Additional Resources

A package of stuff that I downloaded and now use constantly, and recommend if you not only want to do this better but also make it easier on yourself, is the Instant Recommendation Letter Kit (click here to learn more).

It includes not only 79 different real-life (as in actual recommendation letters) examples to work from but also a very helpful ‘source book’ that covers every possible type of letter of reference or recommendation you might need to write.

Sample Reference Letters and Templates from

A nice short article on reference letter writing from the National Association of Colleges and Employers

A similar but excellent article from Write Express: ‘How to Write the Perfect Recommendation Letter’

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